- Though efforts to close the digital divide during the pandemic reduced the number of K-12 students without broadband service by 20% to 40%, as many as 12 million students remain disconnected, according to a report by Common Sense, Boston Consulting Group and the Southern Education Foundation. However, the efforts to close the gap did reduce the number of students without access to e-learning devices by 40% to 60%.
- The key findings of the study show: closing the digital divide is an equity issue, long-term solutions must address the needs of 15 to 16 million students who were impacted by the divide when the pandemic began, and the measures to fix the problem have so far been temporary with more than 75% set to expire in the next one to two years.
- The report also suggests it will take $6 billion to $11 billion to close the divide the first year and another $4 billion to $8 billion annually after that, federal and state policy should expand investment in broadband infrastructure and public-private partnerships are essential.
The abrupt closure of schools last spring left district administrators and state leaders scrambling to connect many kids to distance learning, but there were some success stories. For example, Nevada conquered the digital divide, connecting all students who needed access through its COVID-19 Task Force, the Connecting Kids public-private coalition and other partnerships. The five-month initiative connected nearly 500,000 students.
Many states have faced a similar struggle. Despite a requirement for districts to provide devices and high-speed internet connection to any student learning from home, 300,000 to 1 million students in California remained disconnected as of October.
Lack of internet access is an equity issue. Nationwide, about one-third of households with annual incomes under $30,000 and with children under 18 don’t have high-speed internet connection at home — which impacts about 9.7 million students, according to a Pew Research Center report.
Breaking down the issue by race, the homework gap impacts 34% of American Indian/Alaska Native, 31% of Black, 31% of Latino, 21% of White and 12% of Asian students, according to the Future Ready Schools initiative.
Digital equity helps advance academic equity, according to research by Michigan State University. Researchers made a correlation that shows students who lack connectivity and devices have GPAs half a letter grade lower than their connected peers. Lack of internet access is also negatively associated with other academic measures, such as lower digital skills and lower SAT test scores.