Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Digital Divide in Education

More than half of the country’s students have been sent home to prevent the spread of disease and instructed to continue their education via video chats and message boards.

But nationwide, more than 4m households with school-age children don’t have home internet. Study after study shows that people don’t have internet because they can’t afford it, and because systemic racial discrimination blocks them from subscribing.

Poor families and people of color are particularly affected – only 56% of households making less than $20,000 have home broadband, and black and Hispanic households lag behind their white counterparts even when we control for income differences.

Even among students who theoretically have access, not all access is equal. According to census research, 8% of households who have internet rely exclusively on mobile broadband. Once again, low-income people and communities of color are disproportionately more likely to be mobile-only broadband adopters.

This also has particular impacts on students – only about half of school-age children who live in mobile-only households personally use the internet at home, perhaps because of the difficulty of sharing mobile devices. Mobile services are often limited by data caps, and mobile devices can make certain tasks incredibly challenging. Imagine studying for your calculus exam or writing a world-history paper on a cellphone. This is a reality for a lot of students who don’t have home broadband.

When schools move education online, poor students and kids of color fall behind. This compounds generations of systemic racial and economic inequities.


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