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Schools Work to Close Gap in Computer Accessibility
posted by: Ruthie | November 13, 2012, 09:58 PM   

It's no surprise that the internet is rapidly becoming the primary means of communication between teachers and parents. However, community demographic differences often bring varying levels of computer and internet accessibility across the country. Some parents may not be able to afford the internet, while others may not be computer literate.

In order to bridge this disparity and to engage parents, many districts are offering various forms assistance. The HoustonSchool District in Texas recently launched an initiative for digital literacy, targeting low-income parents with no internet access or computers. Donations from Microsoft Corp and $25,000 from the local school endowment allowed the district to create "parent super centers" on five campuses. "Parent super centers" have already provided 2,000 parents with classes and training on internet use and safety, online grade reporting systems, and office software.

Similarly, Computer for Youth (CFY) serves low-income families in New York City, Los Angeles, and in the San Francisco Bay area. This program provides all day training for both parents and children. After learning how to use a computer, the internet, and how to access age-appropriate academic platforms, parents receive a refurbished computer to stay connected with school assignments and teachers.

Elizabeth Stock, CEO and co-founder of CFY said, "For low-income parents who feel they can no longer help their kids with learning as homework starts to become appreciably harder, access to high-quality digital learning content at home and the training to use it keeps these parents in the game. These parents can now easily find help online or learn side by side with their child."

Schools' efforts to involve parents can empower them to feel more involved in their children's education. For example, parent Sadara Jackson McWhorter said that prior to CFY training she did not even know how to turn on a computer. Now she can even teach herself Spanish using online tools.

Sean Bulson, superintendent of the 12,000-student Wilson County schools in a rural part of North Carolina took an aggressive approach to improving student's access to technology by giving each student an iPad. However, an application for a federal Race to the Top district grant is necessary for providing the $24 million needed to wire homes with internet.

"It is unethical to provide a robust digital learning program in schools for kids who don't have access to in their bedrooms and family rooms," said Michael Searson, the executive director for the School for Global Education and Innovation at Kean University in Union, N.J. and president of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education.

"As schools begin to integrate mobile devices and social media into education, the out-of-school equity issues have to be considered. Education leaders need to understand equity is not only access to devices, but access to the networks that allow people to get information," said Searson.

How does your school use technology to involve parents? How do you use social media in the classroom?
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