Innovations in Education: The Education Impact of the Digital Divide | Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Innovations in Education: The Education Impact of the Digital Divide

According to data from an analysis by Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group, 36% of Kentucky students – roughly 240,000 –  lack adequate internet. Approximately 10% of teachers also lack proper broadband access in their homes. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this digital divide issue, as more Kentuckians are now working remotely and taking online classes. From our youngest learners to our college students, access to the internet is now an imperative.

This week on Innovations in Education, we focused on the direct impact of the digital divide on students, parents and educators. Because the topic of the digital divide is so layered, we have previously discussed the demand for adequate internet access in the workforce, healthcare and education. In July, we shifted our focus to internet providers, where we discussed the two main issues surrounding internet access: affordability for low income families, and the infrastructure needed for rural areas to have reliable connections. We’ve also talked one-on-one with Kentucky WIRED CEO Rob Morphionios about how that project is providing “middle mile” access across the state, and to Dr. Alison Davis, at the UK Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky, about her study that rated each county on its level of internet connectivity.

August – Digital Divide & the impact on education

Innovations in Education: The impact of the Digital Divide

According to data from an analysis by Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group, 36% of Kentucky students – roughly 240,000 – lack adequate internet, as well as 10% of teachers. COVID-19 has exacerbated this digital divide issue, as more Kentuckians are now working remotely and taking online classes. From our youngest learners to our college students, access to the internet is now an imperative.Today on our episode of Innovations in Education, we will focus on the direct impact of the digital divide on students, parents and educators. We have hosted two live “Innovations in Educations” episodes on the digital divide.

Posted by Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence on Wednesday, August 19, 2020

July – Digital Divide Discussion with Kentucky Internet Providers

Innovations in Education: Solutions to the Digital Divide

We're talking #DigitalDivide solutions with internet providers Charter Communications, Kenergy, People's Rural Telephone Cooperative and KyWired!

Posted by Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence on Wednesday, July 15, 2020

June – The need for universal broadband access

Innovations in Education: Universal Broadband Access

Wednesday at 3 p.m. we'll be discussing the need for broadband internet access for all Kentuckians!

Posted by Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence on Wednesday, June 17, 2020

One-on-One with UK Researcher Alison Davis

Innovations in Education: Alison Davis on KY Digital Divide Report

Alison Davis, director of the Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK) discusses her recent study on the digital divide in all 120 Kentucky counties.

Posted by Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence on Friday, July 24, 2020

One-on-One with Kentucky Wired CEO Rob Morphionios

Innovations in Education: Closing Kentucky's Digital Divide

Prichard Committee President & CEO Brigitte Blom Ramsey discusses how the KentuckyWired project will impact Kentuckians from Pikeville to Paducah when it is complete later this year with CEO Rob Morphionios.

Posted by Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence on Wednesday, August 12, 2020

With this week’s conversation, we connected those dots, talking about what the end user – students, parents and educators – experience when they do not have reliable internet access.

“In this new normal of remote learning, we must explore some short-term solutions to make remote learning and living more equitable for all of us – until the long-term infrastructure solutions are a reality,” said Prichard Committee President and CEO Brigitte Blom Ramsey, who moderated the panel discussion with the following panelists:

  • Amina Fazullah is the Digital Equity Counsel for Commonsense Media. She was also one of the authors of the report “CLOSING THE K–12 DIGITAL DIVIDE IN THE AGE OF DISTANCE LEARNING.” Common Sense is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of all kids and families by providing the information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive.
  • Tracy Teater is a Senior Director for the National Center for Families Learning, one of the Prichard Committee’s partner organizations. NCFL has been working directly with families in Jefferson County Public Schools to provide laptops and hotspots to families in need.
  • Kate Akers is a mom living and working from home in Spencer County. She and her husband live on a farm with their preschooler and first grader, where they struggle daily with not having reliable broadband internet access.
  • Nyasha Musoni is a Student Voice Team member who worked on the Coping with COVID survey. She is a senior Paul Laurence Dunbar high school.

Key Takeaways

  • Fazullah gave an overview of the report from Commonsense Media, saying that the “digital divide” has a very broad definition. It can mean both the level of internet connectivity and access to technology devices. Many students may have cell phones even if they lack broadband or a computer, but viewing lessons and completing school work with cell phones is not ideal. “It’s ideal for students to have a laptop from second grade on, and it’s very important to have high speed access to broadband.”
  • Teater discussed the impact of connectivity issues on the whole family. Many parents are now working from home and balancing childcare, education and job duties all at the same time. “Many Parents are foregoing their own education and work goals to give their kids the internet and/or computers at home,” she said. Her organization has been working directly with families in Jefferson County Public Schools to provide laptops and hotspots to families in need. The funds for this endeavor have come from a grant from the Prichard Committee and the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Akers lives on a farm in Spencer County where broadband access isn’t available. She and her husband both use internet hotspots and cell phone data to bring the internet to their home, but is conscious of the reality that many Kentuckians cannot afford that work-around. “I frequently call providers to let them know that there is demand in this area. We have to figure out how to keep our children on track and piece together the issues we have around internet access.”
  • Musoni discussed results of the Student Voice Team’s Coping with COVID survey. Lack of access to technology, increased responsibilities at home and work, and changes in physical, financial, and emotional safety and stability all created new challenges for students.
    • Poor students were disproportionately more likely to report having unreliable WiFi access (7.2% reported never having access) compared to their more affluent peers.
    • Additionally, rural students were three times more likely to report never having access to reliable WiFi than students in metro areas (4.4% compared to 1.4%).
    • Access to reliable WiFi was linked to time spent on schoolwork. Students who reported never having access to reliable WiFi were more likely to spend less than one hour per day on school (21%) than students who had more reliable access. Students who had reliable access to WiFi also tended to report higher levels of motivation and work manageability.

It’s clear that the federal government has a role to play in the long-term solutions of closing the digital divide. It is unclear to what degree broadband supports might be addressed in any future stimulus packages. In July, the House passed the Moving Forward Act, which placed $100 billion into broadband supports with priority on remote learning. Most indicate this bill is a non-starter in the Senate, but pieces and parts like broadband have wide support and may get included in final stimulus – including price supports for high-need families and flexibility in the E-rate program for schools and libraries. Please send an email to your congressman through this link to ask for their support in closing the digital divide.

With back-to-school season in full swing, however, we must also explore short-term solutions to providing internet access to families in need. We’re seeing some bright spots in local philanthropy from the United Way of Greater Cincinnati and Horizon Community Funds who are piloting a Northern Kentucky Digital Equity Initiative that will serve 884 homes in serving school districts in Boone County, Kenton County, Campbell County, Covington Independent Public Schools, Erlanger-Elsmere Independent, Newport Independent, Dayton Independent, Ludlow Independent, Southgate Independent and Bellevue Independent. The Prichard Committee is exploring this initiative and others, as well as surveying Kentucky superintendents to identify further needs for philanthropy to close the divide.

X