And without access, students fall behind. It is not a complex equation. The novel coronavirus exposed, at a national scale, the equality gap between students with Internet access and those without.
The inequity, known as the “homework gap,” a symptom of a larger digital divide, affects roughly 12 million children across the country, according to a Pew Research Center study. Many of these youths, most of whom are students of color, tend to also come from families with low incomes. This issue has existed for years with little to no action taken toward resolution. This inequity will continue post-coronavirus. But amid this crisis, we have an opportunity to solve the problem.
In Prince George’s County, we are using our own resources to provide students with broadband access. We put $2 million toward expanding Internet access and distributed devices to help students keep pace with their daily lessons.
We received assistance from Comcast and Verizon; Sam Brin, younger brother of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, donated $100,000 to purchase laptops for high school seniors. In addition, we have encouraged local partners, businesses and nonprofits to open their wireless hotspots for students to use. Before distance-learning began this month, we distributed 60,000 Chromebooks to students.
As we saw during our Chromebook distributions, these services and devices are of vital importance to keep our students learning today, tomorrow and in the unknown days ahead. Lines stretched far and wide across our Chromebook distribution sites. Yet even this unprecedented commitment is not enough to solve the crisis long term, ensuring the equal access to education that every student deserves.
To bridge this digital divide, we need federal intervention. In the stimulus package signed into law, Congress failed to provide direct funding for distance learning. Future stimulus legislation must include funding for expanded broadband access, particularly with an enhanced E-Rate program for broadband access to schools and libraries.
Removing systematic barriers to education is a national emergency every day, but now the urgency is as great as ever before. In these trying times, we are already seeing what happens when we don’t answer the call when an alarm is sounded — or wait too long to act.
In our community, like so many, we rallied to do what is necessary. Our teachers transitioned to remote learning, getting lesson plans and instructional tools ready. Parents stepped up, turning living rooms and kitchen tables into classrooms. Students have adapted to learning online, helping each other and accepting that, yes, they still have to go to school.
Across the country, students deserve a clear path to success that can begin only with bridging the digital divide. Congress has the chance to remedy this problem and help communities provide the quality education that every American must be afforded.
As a working mom and parent, I give my word: For as long as this pandemic lasts, PGCPS will continue to do its best to ensure every student receives a proper education while we fight to end the digital divide. These are not normal times. Thankfully, they are not permanent. Together, we’ll get through this and be stronger as a result. Through this tragic and deadly crisis, we have the opportunity to end the great inequity of broadband access, creating a post-coronavirus world that better serves the underserved, providing a transformational resource for generations to come.