Equitable access to technology is worth fighting for. Technology can empower students and enhance their learning. It also increases the number of opportunities they are exposed to. In many schools in the United States (and all over the world), students are expected or required to have digital access to complete their required coursework. However, not all students have equitable access to technology.
In this article, we will explain what equitable access to technology is and why it’s important. In addition, we will outline what educators can do to promote access to technology for every student on their roster.
What Is Equitable Access to Technology?
The commercialization of electronic devices may seem ubiquitous, but not all students have access to them at home. Digital access measures the level of participation of students in using digital tools (including both hardware devices and software programs).
Equitable access to technology refers to all students having access to technology and information regardless of their ethnicity, socio-economic status, age, physical ability, or any other quality. It’s not only integral for opportunities to learn, but also a fundamental component in assisting students with acquiring the knowledge and skills they need to become digitally savvy citizens.
A lack of equitable access to technology and information deprives students of learning experiences and can even limit their opportunities after graduation. This inequity is further exacerbated by the need for distance learning this school year.
Access to technology is more than just providing devices and connectivity to students. It also involves making sure every student has the opportunity to learn from a teacher who understands how to use technology.
Why Does Equitable Access to Technology Matter?
Many students lack access to technology at home. Some only have access to a smartphone and no data plan, while others have multiple devices and internet access. This disparity in digital access has been called “the homework gap” by policymakers.
A student’s socio-economic status impacts how likely they are to have access to technology. A survey by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan American think-tank, found that 35 percent of households in the United States with school-age children and an annual income of under $30,000 do not have access to high-speed internet. Among households earning $75,000 or more, only 6 percent lack high-speed internet.
The National Center for Education Statistics conducted a survey that found only 61 percent of school-aged children had internet access at home, and yet a majority of students reported requiring the internet to complete assignments.
Educators are well aware of the homework gap and how important it is for students to have equitable access to technology. Yet much more could be done. A recent infrastructure survey from the Consortium of School Networking, an association and advocacy group that promotes emerging technologies with decision-makers in K-12 education, found that less than 10 percent of school district leaders felt that 100 percent of their students had access to technology outside of school.
Technology access is becoming a Catch-22 for students. Increasingly, schools and school districts are promoting the use of digital tools for assignments, especially with part of the 2020-2021 school year moving to online learning. However, students may not be able to get access to the technology required while at home.
What Educators can do to Promote Equitable Access to Technology for Students
Educators play an important role in securing equitable access to technology. They are on the front lines with students. In this section, we will outline some practical tips on how educators can promote equitable access to technology for all their students.
Develop a Systematic Technology Plan
If you are an educator, consider encouraging your school or school district to develop a systemwide technology plan. Be sure to build it on a foundation of policies that address what is required to provide equitable access to technology for students. At their core, these policies should outline where to go for help getting access, ensure individuals know how to access the technology, and be flexible enough to accommodate the diverse instructional requirements and learning styles that students have.
Get Teachers Involved
Teachers are the liaison between school leadership and students. They are connected with students and have a good sense of their needs and capabilities. School leaders should work alongside teachers when implementing programs that promote equitable access to technology for their students. They should be sure to consult with the relevant teachers who oversee students in the area the initiative is trying to address.
For example, school leaders should talk to their literacy department before purchasing software that boosts literacy skills. It may seem like a no-brainer, but many schools end up purchasing outdated or irrelevant technology simply because they did not run them by teachers beforehand. After all, the first people who should be trained in the technology are the teachers who will be using it to educate.
Start Digital Literacy Programs
Despite living in a technological world, many students in the United States are not fully comfortable with digital tools. Some of the factors that cause discomfort with technology among students include lack of financial resources to purchase digital tools and limited proficiency in English.
Teachers are often aware of which students lack technological skills. Educators would do well to implement digital literacy programs that allow students to catch up on their technological skills. Some schools host an after-school program that teaches students the basic computer skills they require.
Utilize Governmental Resources
Educators can take advantage of governmental resources for digital access. Many schools already utilize government initiatives like the Federal E-Rate program, which provides discounted internet access and funding for schools and school districts to help get their kids online while at school. However, there are also many programs available that promote technology outside of the classroom as well, including local initiatives to provide hotspots and laptop loaners to students.
Governmental policy is a key resource in ensuring students have equitable access to technology. In the United States, Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act makes funding available so that schools are able to purchase digital tools. This policy assists educators and benefits students. Check to see what grants are available in your area.
Use Partnerships to Enable Equitable Access to Technology
Many schools have a shortage of digital resources available for students to use. Despite available government funding, schools may lack the technology their students require. Partnerships between schools and external organizations or other schools in the community can help educators bridge their gap in funds for technology.
The best partnerships are with organizations that have the resources your school lacks. Use the resources your school does have to barter for access to technology. For example, one school might loan out a sports field to another school in exchange for time in their computer lab.
Equitable access to technology is a large societal issue. Luckily, educators have the power to increase equitable access to technology. To learn about technology in the classroom, discover resources for teachers and students, and gain an understanding of issues in education, head to GoGuardian. Our smart technology is here to optimize your digital learning program for K-12 learners.