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The Digital Divide

Of all the debates so far, this one has inherently been the most difficult to take a stand on. The arguments are so complex, and so nuanced, and so NOT black and white. They are also very much based on location and circumstances. In some areas technology has lead to a more equitable society. It has given voice to individuals and communities that were previously voiceless. It has allowed for the amplification of voices that needed to be heard, but have perhaps been ignored by mainstream media. 

At the same time, the pandemic has also revealed the ways in which technology has made our own school community more inequitable. It’s easy, in the day to day life of school, and with the busy-ness and ease of access, to forget that some of our community does not have the same access to technology. As we started gathering data that week of March 20, 2020, we started tracking how many of our students had at least one device in the home, and how many had access to the internet. I actually still have the data from that time period, and in my own homeroom classroom I only had one student that did not have a device that could access the internet. She did have internet access, just not a device to do so. 

In my head that number was actually lower than I thought it would be. We issued laptops to those students who needed a device, and started the process of learning how to teach online. However, as we started meeting online, and as the weeks passed, the inequity became clear in different ways. While every student I taught technically did have a device, and access to the internet, it was not always available when we had a scheduled class. For example, I may have been teaching ELA 10 over Zoom from 9:30 – 10:30, but a student’s siblings may also have a Zoom class at that same time. All of a sudden families that had access to only one device – only one laptop or phone, became disadvantaged. Even time to work on homework became difficult for these families because literally everything was online, and students did not have enough digital access time. As I mentioned, the pandemic truly revealed the digital divide, and the Alyvia Bruce Harvard Political Review article suggests my own pandemic digital experiences is paralleled elsewhere: “Lower-income students are at a much higher risk of falling behind due to online instruction, with 60% of lower-income students receiving below-quality virtual instruction and 40% receiving no instruction at all, compared to 48% and 10% respectively for average students.”

It would be interesting to see how the choices made by Don Hall’s school community could impact students in my own school community.  To go to student homes and equip “their onsite community centers with computer labs” and provide students and families with tech support so that students could have digital access after school hours is a drastically different level of support. I don’t know what that could look like here; I do know that I still don’t have kids who can work on digital homework. Also, as I leave Balfour after night events, I see students in the back parking lot on their phones, sitting on the ground with their backs against the walls of the school, hooking up to the school wifi because they don’t have access. The divide is clearly still there. This is also reflective in the Bruce article as she discusses how students in rural Kentucky resorted to mobile hotspots in restaurants and other public places in order to access wifi. 

However, while much of the arguments and articles focused on digital access, I do agree that in many ways technology has made learning in the classroom more accessible and equitable in different ways. In the Benetech article, and in class Will mentioned how some of the tools we now have make learning easier for students who may have struggled in the past. For example, there are three or four students in my afternoon class that depend on Google Read and Write to help them with their ELA assignments. Specifically, they use the reader feature to have text read out loud to them. They use the voice recording feature to talk out their thoughts, which saves them a significant amount of time as they have some learning disabilities that make it difficult to translate their verbal thoughts into written form. In these ways some of our students are able to demonstrate their learning using these tools; this would have been significantly more difficult without these applications, and instead would depend on access to an LR teacher or an EA to help them. I can’t help but be grateful for the ways various elements of technology have made my job, and students’ lives easier, and made learning more accessible.

Check out this Podcast that discussed other tools for accessibility and equity. It discusses how tools like PowerPoint Live, Microsoft Translate, Immersive Reader can help both parent and student learning become more equitable. There were a few tools I was unaware of, especially regarding translation.


Author: Janeen Clark

I am a teacher with Regina Public Schools in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Primarily I teach ELA and Fine Arts, and I am a part of Balfour Arts Collective.

One thought on “The Digital Divide”

  1. Thanks for sharing so many common thoughts on this topic. I get the digital divide, how marginalized groups experienced a widening of this gap over the course of the pandemic, and the potential lasting impacts of this problem, yet I am having trouble finding an efficient and effective way of tackling the problem head on. I like the positive spin that you put on technology, highlighting the equities that it creates in learning opportunities when, and only when, devices, infrastructure, and competent educators are also accessible to students.


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