Students Are Being Shut Offline
Updated: Dec 22, 2022
By: Ariana Tsegai 🇪🇷
Student typing on a computer at Leonardtown apartments on Dec.7, 2022 (Diana Rivera)
News outlets worldwide reported an influx in Coronavirus cases from 2019-2020, where deaths in the United States increased by 19%.
Still, behind the majority of people who were dealing with this virus, there was a silent minority that was forced to carry on their lives without knowing this information.
The negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on teaching and learning is more evident than ever. As students moved to online learning during the pandemic, access to the internet was a requirement for students to participate in a new learning environment.
But, online learning brought many concerns around inequalities in student access to digital resources at home, more specifically high-quality broadband. Since not everyone has high-quality internet access, the pandemic has exposed the differences between students who can afford internet access and those who can’t.
Broadband network is the transmission of high-quality data of a wide length. It’s how we’re able to get high-speed internet access that’s always on and faster than other alternatives.
Not everyone has high-quality internet access, and the pandemic has exposed the differences between students who can afford internet access, and those who can’t.
Data provided by the Pew Research Center shows that around 60% of low-income users of broadband networks report having issues with connectivity either “sometimes” or “often.”
These differences are causing what is known as a widening digital divide, where people with more money have better access to technology and the internet. This is creating an inequality around accessing information and different resources.
It’s important to understand that this isn’t a new issue, personally, my family found themselves struggling to afford internet without government assistance.
With limited access to the internet, I witnessed my peers going through the same thing. We dealt with a buffering network and glitches, causing us to be removed from Zoom meetings at times.
The digital divide not only impacts low-income students, but also minority populations including Black and Brown students. A study done on SagePub found that 15.6% of Black students and 12.4% of Hispanic students were forced to learn online without adequate access to the Internet or a computer.
But these battles don’t have to exist. Montgomery County Public Schools introduced the program known as Montgomery Connects. This program provides 40,000 Chromebook computers to residents and students who do not have a computer.
Internet hotspot devices in Brentwood, Maryland on Dec.22, 2022. (Alexa Figueroa)
Prince George’s County Public Schools introduced their own initiative where residents can borrow Chromebooks free of charge.
But these initiatives bring bigger challenges with how students can permanently keep these Chromebooks, and how larger families can navigate the issue of not having internet access.
Programs introduced at the beginning of online learning such as Comcast’s Internet Essentials bring about affordable or free high-speed internet to low-income households across the U.S. for greater access to work, education, and more.
But users of the program like myself were able to identify that the range of internet that the program provides is not sufficient for larger families who are using the internet on multiple devices.
Because of this, there are more cases of families just like mine who had to deal with low-speed internet access and are forced to take turns using devices.
Recently, programs across the country that provided broadband networks to low-income households are ending. More families are applying for the Affordable Connectivity Program, a Biden-era government initiative that is providing low-cost, or free internet to these homes.
Though the program has its flaws with a complicated application process, it’s the correct step being taken to fight against the digital divide.
If we’re looking to get rid of that divide, the programs set in place to ensure equality amongst students and regular people must continue, no matter what.