Digital Inclusion and K-12 Education: The Impact of COVID-19 on Students and Educators

Thu, November 05, 2020

BroadbandUSA’s October Webinar, Digital Inclusion and K-12 Education: The Impact of COVID-19 on Students and Educators, focused on the challenges that communities and schools are facing during the pandemic. The panel of community leaders also highlighted longstanding issue of digital inclusion, particularly in low-income, rural, and tribal communities.

Kimball Sekaquaptewa, Chief Technology Director at Santa Fe Indian School, provided an overview of the state of connectivity on Tribal Lands, where 41% of people lack access to broadband. The New Mexico school has attempted to mitigate connectivity challenges for students by deploying hotspots and promoting available broadband discounts. Their digital inclusion priorities include tech focused professional development for teachers, closing the homework gap, creating a state education network, and achieving tribally controlled broadband infrastructure.

Dr. Christine Diggs and Michael Culp, from Virginia’s Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS), emphasized the partnerships and longstanding initiatives that have enabled them to implement a wide range of solutions in response to the pandemic. In March, ACPS accelerated their plan to accommodate virtual learning. They created a Return to School website, family “tech nights,” a bilingual technology field guide, and a dashboard illustrating family-reported Internet access data. ACPS also provided professional development for teachers, and established a technology resources library.

Joshua Edmonds, Director of Digital Inclusion for the City of Detroit, Michigan, spoke about the city’s Connect 313 initiative. The initiative established a digital inclusion strategy that builds upon and coordinates existing digital inclusion efforts. Having Connect 313 in place helped Detroit react more quickly to COVID-19 and the needs of online learners. In the spring, through the city’s Connected Futures Project, all students in Detroit’s public schools received tablets with SIM cards and 6 months of LTE service. Households were assisted in signing up for discounted Internet service through Internet Essentials.

Each presenter recognized that the pandemic has forced decision makers to speed up existing efforts and deploy measures to mitigate impacts on student learning and stressed the benefits of having a long-term plan to close the digital divide. Partnerships between community institutions and other stakeholders, robust data collection, and the ability to leverage funding from diverse sources is critical to the success of these ongoing efforts.

To listen to an archive of the webinar, visit the BroadbandUSA website. BroadbandUSA hosts monthly webinars on broadband access and utilization and digital inclusion. Follow us on Twitter @NTIAgov to learn more and get updates on NTIA and BroadbandUSA’s work.