On the Digital Learning Gap in America

Featured Illustration: The Washington Post

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Disclaimer: Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of interview participants.

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Modern technology is the future of education, but it’s a luxury many cannot afford. In the age of digital learning, how do we progress without leaving our peers behind? The digital learning gap is one that transcends age, and ties into many aspects of life. In education, what is being done to bridge the digital divide?

One of the biggest ties the digital learning gap has on education as a whole is the lack of resources for those who cannot connect online. The global COVID-19 pandemic revealed many flaws in American systems. Within education, access and limited resources have proved the most damaging to schools and students countrywide.

Ibraheem Anderson, a school teacher from Texas, has said of remote learning: “We’ve been hit hard by the pandemic… We used to have Chromebooks when we were in school, but you couldn’t take them home. But now we don’t hand out Chromebooks. Everyone has to connect how they can. Sometimes they share devices and connect through their own. It’s a challenge, but I think if you are in a school district with a lot of resources, things will be easier.” Anderson went on to say that families and communities are the key to closing the gap. He sees opportunity in outreach centers and enforced mandatory attendance to bring access and participation back to the community.

Robert Martellacci, an educational expert based in Canada, believes that inadequate funding, lack of digital training and development opportunities for teachers and principals, and clear policies are to blame. “The whole ecosystem of education needs to be nurtured through government investments and partnerships with the private sector in order to lay a foundation for success,” Martellacci claims.

Research shows that many public school statistics are a direct result of inaccessibility where technology is essential. Lower-income communities are at the forefront. Without receiving proper funding, many schools must make do with what’s available — and oftentimes, there isn’t enough for everyone.

Karen Cator, author of the article Closing the Digital Learning Gap, writes that “Gaps also exist between high-performing and low-performing public schools based on differences in access to funding and resources, community engagement and commitment, and the ability and willingness of district and school leaders to embrace innovation and try new strategies.”

Andrea Tanner, a former student teacher based in Dallas, agrees. They say technological resources, such as Chromebooks and iPads, were not available to take home at the elementary where they interned. “The lack of resources to students and education surrounding technology is based on an incorrect assumption that the conditions of a classroom are the same as at home,” Tanner claims. “People fall behind because they get left behind.” They go on to explain that there are many reasons a student may not progress. Inability to connect due to lack of internet, a negative environment at home, and lack of knowledge regarding the use of technology are just a few examples.

However, the culture of limited access can change. While funding does play a huge part in the gap, Andrea believes it can be better bridged with proper education. This means returning to the basics, and teaching the public about online resources and technology usage, a sentiment many would agree with, even outside of K-12 education. While the learning gap is especially problematic for middle to high school students, it extends even further into many college and career fields.

Vivian Chandler, a training director at a local financial service, claims that lack of access, participation, and technology compatibility all play a part in the DLG’s hold on career education. Chandler, who now works remotely most days, says that training laptops are limited, and the virtual desktops aren’t compatible with many online resources, such as Zoom. This causes work and communication difficulty among trainers, trainees, and other company employees.

Though Tanner interned as a second-grade student teacher, their college education has been impacted by the gap as well. As Chandler previously stated, “I think for kids, it’s a little bit easier for kids to wrap their heads around the technology because they grew up around technology… to an extent. There’s a happy medium.”

Andrea grew up around technology and understands it well enough to function. But due to the extreme poverty they grew up in, they didn’t see as many opportunities to use it. As a working college student in a formerly locked down Texas, their remote learning required them to purchase their own online resources to keep up with classes, which is not an easy feat.

Technology-based education, while quickly becoming the number one source of learning, is still unavailable to many. Many factors add to the issue, widening the gap with each day that the people go without the aid they need. With the necessary resources, such as government funding, educational equity is a possibility. But it’s a community effort. Access, participation, and power use — the big three. Use them, and continue the effort to bridge the digital divide.