From the moment schools shut down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that many districts were ill-equipped to support their students from afar. They just weren’t ready for distance learning, and a big part of that was that too many students lacked adequate WiFi access to get to virtual class.

It’s time for states to step up and realize that proper technology and WiFi connectivity are a must-have in public school districts, and that state policy is dangerously lagging behind. And while systems might not continue to operate as 100 percent virtual schools in a post-COVID world, better access to learning technology is no longer negotiable in this increasingly-digital world.

Ideally, hybrid schooling models can offer significant opportunities for personalizing learning, from special education students to students in rural areas who don’t have adequate wireless connectivity at home. To better understand the issues and tactics for improvement, let’s review current state laws for provisioning technology and WiFi access, exame how they are falling short, and propose policy changes to better support K-12 distance learning.

Does any of this really matter, since the pandemic is waning and schools are going back in person?

A chorus of education leaders say yes. Clear lessons from the pandemic are that technology improves learning and teaching, and K-12 schools are under-preparing students for the digital world.

Over in Morris County, New Jersey, Hartman expresses concern for students; she’s aware that “devices make for a better learning experience,” but feels frustrated that state-level Departments of Education do not provide devices with built-in WiFi. And back in Arizona, Leon Tynes echoes her sentiment: “Every campus is not as prepared to provide the level of distance learning with the necessary elements as other districts are.”

And students of color and/or from low socioeconomic backgrounds are the ones that suffer the most. Tynes, who teaches computer science, argues that “almost everything we use or touch in the United States has a microchip or a CPU integrated in its design,” meaning that students who don’t learn about creating technology—as opposed to merely consuming it—will be left behind.

Jennifer E. Dolan’s 2016 research “Splicing the Divide” tackled this equity piece with data way before COVID-19 reached U.S. shores, demonstrating that affluent students with more-frequent access to working technology become “active producers of technology,” where they create spreadsheets, design digital stories, and publish online writing; comparatively, their less-affluent peers become “passive consumers” who engage in drill-and-kill exercises focused on standardized testing requirements. That means they become less acquainted with workplace technical skills.

Read the full article about students lacking access technology and WiFi by Mary Jo Madda at EdSurge.