The gap in digital equity must be put under the spotlight if schools are going to be able to redress, and address, the yawning “homework” gap. Only 3% of teachers in high-poverty level schools said that their students had the digital tools necessary to complete homework assignments, compared to 52% of teachers in more affluent schools. A counterpoint to these figures, is also the finding that 70% of teachers assign homework requiring broadband access.
We discuss at length in this blog the benefits of a blended learning environment, where students — empowered with digital tools and access — take control of their learning, thereby creating a more inviting, engaging and successful learning environment.
However, there would be little point in highlighting these benefits if we did not also acknowledge that digital access at home continues to disadvantage students after school, where they are expected to conduct digitally-enabled homework assignments and projects.
4 Examples of the best digital access initiatives
There are, however, a number of programs that aim to redress this specific “digital homework” inequality, and I thought we could explore some of them today — in the hopes that schools and teachers determined to level the playing field find guidance and assistance.
The Digital Equity Initiative
This is an information-based project run by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) that consists primarily of a comprehensive toolkit that lays out simple steps and ideas for schools to adopt in improving home-based internet access for their students.
They offer practical guidance on everything from mapping the granular requirements of the “homework gap” among students and parents, to how to go about partnering with local communities and business. Some of the ideas they explore include homework hotspots, school bus wi-fi and the ambitious project of rolling out the community’s own LTE infrastructure.
Find the full, and very helpful toolkit here.
Mobile Beacon is a mobile data provider established by the North American Catholic Educational Programming Foundation (NACEPF), and provides high quality 4G data to nonprofits and schools, for as little as $10 a month.
PCs for People and Mobile Beacon have now partnered on a program called Bridging the Gap which combines donations of laptops with affordable mobile data to low-income households with the specific intention of closing the homework gap. Some studies have shown that enabling such households with mobile, rather than broadband, internet creates a more flexible solution, as these types of households tend to relocate more frequently.
Between September 2016 and May 2017 the program donated 1,600 computers and 870 4G mobile hotspots to low-income families in Denver, Colorado. The program now has community projects running in 47 states.
Sprint’s 1 Million Project
Launched in 2016, after Sprint’s Executive Chairman, Marcelo Claure, saw this shocking documentary on the homework gap, this project has the unambiguous ambition to provide 1 million high school students access to the internet.
In their first year (2017) the program provided over 180 000 students across 118 school districts with mobile devices and 4G internet. As this is a 5-year program there is still a lot of time to get your application in.
We’ve discussed EveryoneOn before in relation to the digital divide, and for good reason: it is a comprehensive, nationwide internet access assist program that covers a wide range of communities, providers and institutions. As a national nonprofit their mission is to generate social and economic opportunity by connecting everyone to the internet.
They partner with local internet service providers, and provide affordable home internet plans and computers for households with students eligible for participation in the National School Lunch Program and other government support programs. Leveraging off of national partnerships with top ISPs such as AT&T, Cox, Comcast, Google Fiber and Spectrum households receive affordable high speed internet for as low as $10 per month. Most low-income customers are also not required to pay deposits, sign contracts or pay for for installation or modem rental fees.
All in all
The homework divide is one of the most critical issues to address if we are to ever see broad-based positive effects of blended and digital learning. I hope some of the resources shared here offer teachers and parents some hope that all students can and will one day have the freedom to use all technological tools to embolden and structure their education.