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The Real Cost of the Digital Divide
posted by: Tamia | October 16, 2020, 07:50 PM   

As a result of COVID-19, the world has had to quickly learn how to use technology to get things done. Whether a technology guru or a novice, many educators, parents, and students were thrust into distance learning due to COVID-19-related school closures in the spring. Thankfully, with time to ideate, initiate, and implement changes, many educators and school districts are more comfortable with distance learning, and some are even excelling in its execution. Perhaps now, educators are slightly more comfortable with the technology they are asked to use for instruction. While teachers may be growing in their capacity to leverage technology, there remains a significant number of students who still have not logged in to class, and who still lack the technology or bandwidth to do so.

From New York, to Arkansas, to Oregan, children face similar challenges due to what has been coined the “Digital Divide” - loss of instructional time with a teacher. Typically, when a student was absent from in-person instruction, there were opportunities to make up work, extend the school day, or somehow catch up with the rest of the class. One major issue as a result of this digital divide is that for as long as learning is happening digitally, and for as long as students do not receive supplemental instruction or activities, they are falling farther behind academically.

The digital divide is a result of many pre-existing societal factors; from generational poverty, limited bandwidth, and lack of infrastructure, to a school’s annual budget. In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic impacting every community, these societal factors have exacerbated limited access to resources and tools to ensure each child has the technology and reliable internet to learn from home. With the race to close schools in March, and the need for students to learn remotely, reliable internet access and technology such as laptops or tablets are now a basic necessity for students. But many students, due to no fault of their own, still lack these basic resources.

It is speculated that COVID-19 and school closures have already led to learning loss. With additional school closures, the lack of small group instruction, absent differentiation, and the lack of ability to connect with students one-on-one, educators are feeling the pressure of needing to close learning gaps with limited resources. Add an additional barrier of limited or no technology access for home learning, and students find themselves facing even greater challenges.

Schools are now approaching fall testing where quarter-one assessments, diagnostics, and unit tests are required in most districts. What happens when a student can’t take the test or loses connection while testing? What about the integrity of the test? How do we ensure data privacy and protection while students are learning from home? Whatsmore, how do students without reliable internet demonstrate what they know?

To address these questions, advocacy groups including the Association of American Educators Foundation are asking state and federal leaders to address the Digital Divide for students across the country. If schools remain closed, and students continue to lack access to reliable technology and the internet, our students not only lose valuable instructional time but could find themselves facing even greater losses in the future.

We need your help and your voices to advocate for students without technology or bandwidth to access the new learning environment. As an organization committed to a teaching profession that is student oriented, well respected, and personally fulfilling, we know that our educators are exactly who we can call on to help us resolve this real and timely issue. AAE believes that access to the learning environment through proper devices and reliable connectivity is now a fundamental need and should be treated as such, and that we have an obligation to ensure every student has an adequate device and reliable connectivity to participate in robust, adaptable, and effective online learning immediately, as well as after the COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures end. Our educators are perfectly positioned to lead this charge.

To get involved with our Digital Divide Focus Group, or to learn more about how you can become an advocate in your state, please contact our Director of Advocacy, Kira Tookes, at


Kira Tookes serves as AAE's Director of Advocacy and Eli Rolfes serves as Policy and Advocacy Fellow for AAE.

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