Giving Compass' Take:

• The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the gaps of broadband internet access for many rural schools, and it is necessary to address these issues before the new school year starts. 

• Various organizations are trying to help find solutions that increase and expand access. How could donor capital help?

•  Learn more about the challenges of COVID-19 with regard to the digital divide. 

During mandatory distance learning, we saw new evidence of long standing inequities. One of the most glaring pain points has been the “homework gap” caused by resources not extending to learners who need them most. In fact, more than 9 million students don’t have reliable internet connectivity at home.

According to a recent survey by Digital Wish districts report the need to purchase hotspots for 12% of their students. The situations range from no access to the internet anywhere, to full families trying to do homework on a parent’s mobile phone. This report also shows that this homework gap is largest in rural areas.

Nate McClennen, Head of Innovation at Teton Science Schools and the Place Network, a national collective of small rural schools, said “Rural spaces often struggle with lack of connectivity, which decreases access to not only learning opportunities for students, but future potential employment opportunities as the rural landscape changes due to shifting economies. Students need access to learn and to build innovative solutions for future sustainable rural communities.”

Similarly, Gary Funk at the Rural Schools Collaborative added, “The COVID-19 crisis has glaringly exposed the digital shortcomings of many rural schools. Not only is broadband service uneven and lacking in many rural regions, students’ access to connecting devices varies widely. While most rural students are able to connect to digital learning, far too many rely on cell phones as the primary device. Exacerbating these issues are widespread differences in a given school’s ability to appropriately utilize digital technologies. We believe that until broadband access is universal, it will be challenging to mount a national effort to overcome the current disparities related to device access and methodology.”

To meet this demand and to try and ensure that this sort of gap never happens again, various organizations have put in place programs and initiatives to address this growing need.

Read the full article about expanding broadband internet access by Mason Pashia at Getting Smart.