Updated: Mar 18, 2021
Yet another socioeconomic disparity revealed by the coronavirus
What is the digital divide?
The digital divide was not a term readily applied to the United States of America before the COVID-19 crisis sent our education system reeling. It was a phrase you came across once or twice in your sociology class, and the example they used was an image of a solitary sheep farmer in the Appalachian Mountains who simply didn’t care to hear the latest Taylor Swift album the minute it was released, or wasn’t aware of the newest iPhone’s advancements. However, the digital divide is relevant, real, and alive in our country, and the past year and a half it has been rearing its ugly head in the form of fallen GPAs in lower-income students. The digital divide is a phenomenon regarding the metaphorical ravine that exists between those who have access to technology at home as well as internet proficiency, and those who do not.
Eliminating the digital divide will take more than simply making sure every household has a simple internet connection and device. Our current problem is that not every student has access to livestreaming a teacher’s lecture or a pre-recorded video. Those actions require broadband, a type of internet access that, in layman's terms, has the speed to stream
video. Less than half of households with a net income of under $20,000 are connected to broadband internet. In the pre-2020 era of students attending a physical school building with broadband capabilities, the digital divide in America was much easier to forget about. However, it did creep into the public mind from time to time: the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under President Obama called a connection to broadband the “table stakes for participation in 21st century life.” Now, students are struggling in their studies more than ever with no daily check-ups from teachers and other school staff. To make matters worse, they may not even have a device or internet connection with which to submit homework.
Citizens of some states such as New York pushed their government educational representatives to give all students computers. Others, like Arizona, had no help from government representatives, and instead relied on individual school districts and
cities to provide students with laptops. Internet providers such as Cox Communications created a program for low-income students to access free internet and Arizona schools turned their school buses into mobile hotspots. While these measures were helpful, they do not come close to closing the gap in the digital divide. Internet proficiency is an extremely broad term that is difficult to define, but in the context of education, it can be defined as knowledge of how to use the world wide web and a computer to the extent that allows for a full range of use on educational platforms. These are skills that come as common knowledge to students who have been using technology in the classroom before the shutdown, and skills that are foreign to those who did not use these devices and platforms either at school or at home.