Mar 29 2021

Working Toward Digital Equity in K–12 Education

Technology access is only part of the equation. With the right planning and support, schools can make a difference for students.

Digital equity is a complex topic. To begin a conversation around it, we must first define the term.

The Consortium for School Networking’s “Driving K–12 Innovation: 2021 Hurdles + Accelerators” report describes digital equity as three interrelated concepts: digital foundations, learning conditions and meaningful learning opportunities. Part of building digital foundations is ensuring students have access to connectivity and devices. Yet recent data from Future Ready Schools shows that 16.9 million children age 17 years or younger lack high-speed home internet, and 3.6 million households are without a computer. However, even if districts get technology into their homes, students may still face inequities in terms of conditions for learning and meaningful learning opportunities. When students cannot access content and build vital skills through pedagogically sound, digitally enhanced and empowered instruction, inequity persists.

I think of my time in the classroom. My ninth grade students were engaging online in discussion boards, collaborating via Google Docs and creating presentations well before my site was one-to-one. Meanwhile, their peers in the classroom next door only used devices to type essays. Digital inequity has been a persistent problem since we first brought devices into schools, but we may be in a place to truly address this problem despite the challenges ahead.

Even if districts can get technology into their homes, these students face a disadvantage simply by lacking experience in using technology effectively.

Students Face Future Disadvantages Without Digital Equity

When a lack of digital equity exists, students’ job preparedness also suffers.

According to “The Future of Jobs Report 2020,” published in October by the World Economic Forum, critical thinking, problem-solving, self-management and resilience are the top skills companies will seek in applicants, looking ahead to 2025. Emerging technologies and increased automation make it necessary to learn these skills at an early age.

When students lack devices, they also lose valuable opportunities to hone the critical thinking and analytical skills that are inherent to technology use. Consequently, they are at a disadvantage when entering some of the fastest-growing job markets, such as data analytics and AI specialist fields.

This doesn’t mean every student needs to major in a STEM field. However, with multiple industries adopting data science and computer science as a part of their work, students need to learn how these and other skill sets integrate across subjects. To authentically engage in these types of activities, students and teachers need to be creating with, not just consuming, technology. However, based on WEF data, even that won’t be enough. Students will need to integrate information from multiple sources to innovate on existing concepts to meet the demands of increased automation, and also understand others with different backgrounds and actively engage with them.

RELATED: Technology in the classroom promotes equity in education.

For students to build this skill set, educators will need appropriate professional development. Professional development won’t just help educators learn how to blend technology and instruction in a meaningful way. It will help teachers of all grades and disciplines create learning environments where students can practice and build the technology skills needed for the future.

However, professional development isn’t the only component necessary to support digital equity across the nation.

Forethought Helps Districts Plan for Digital Equity

One of the most advantageous paths for achieving digital equity is strategic long-term planning. The process of purchasing technology and getting it into students’ hands is a long game with a domino effect. If you give a user technology, they’re going to need professional development. Once they get that professional development, they’re going to need more advanced professional development. If you give a user technology and professional development, they’re going to need IT staff support.

With long-term strategic planning, IT leaders can consider the additional needs that accompany new technology. Then, they can ensure their technology is sustainable and equitable. Because many schools went one-to-one overnight, district leaders are looking at ways to support, repair and replace the increased technology.

EXPLORE: Streamline one-to-one computing deployments in the era of remote learning.

Educators, instructional staff and IT staff must work together to align pedagogy and technology to the district’s goals for teaching and learning. Integrating technology into a district’s or school’s purchasing plan can help make the systems that support teaching more effective and efficient. When this happens, it can result in more time and energy for staff to help students reach a deeper level of knowledge and build the skills they’ll need in their careers, since educators will be able to anticipate what technology will be available from year to year, for example.

By thinking about it from classroom and digital learning perspectives, educators can use the technology to transform their learning environments.

Build Support for Digital Equity Through Advocacy

Having a plan to increase digital equity does not always mean the resources are available or in place to execute that plan.

Educators and IT leaders should advocate to the superintendent for the budget and resources they need to meet technology goals and achieve equity. In addition to telling community and family stories of the impact of technology on teaching and learning, it’s critical to have statistics and other data to support any technology-related requests.

Because digital equity reaches into multiple facets of K–12 education, it is important to bring other stakeholders and experts into the room where decisions are being made. For example, special education departments often have valuable insights into student data privacy, because this issue is among their longstanding top priorities. Leaning on their departmental expertise can help districts create a full-fledged and sustainable digital equity plan that takes into account regulatory requirements.

District leaders can also work with companies to advocate for educational resources from their partners. Intel, for instance, has released many resources for digital learning and continues to work with its partners to help bring more to the table for school administrators.

Schools can also advocate to state and local governments. While the funding earmarked for education in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is available to schools through 2024, districts should be thinking about what they will need in 2025, how to prepare for it now and how to maintain it for all students moving forward.

Joining organizations like CoSN can help schools advocate for funding and digital equity. Educators can be involved at the national level and guide those organizations that are planning and having serious conversations about digital equity, whether at the local, state or national level.

This article is part of the “ConnectIT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology” series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.

[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology

 

Brought to you by:

triloks/Getty Images