Westchester's Digital Divide...expands!
WCA has long highlighted the economic divide that separates the Westchester haves from the have nots and it is even starker during our current COVID-19 crisis. It is has become clear that access to technology, as well as access to food and stable housing, is an issue that immediately affects our children. Not every family has a desktop, laptop, or sufficient internet access readily available in their household so their children can participate in online learning, which is now - like it or not - the primary way for delivering education. As online learning is forecasted to lasts for months to come, the digital divide has the potential to become a broader educational issue.
As the COVID crisis develops, more people have realized what a critical issue this divide has become in the long-term and now the short-term. Allison Lake, our Executive Director, was quoted in a LoHud article, which detailed the struggle that both families and school districts fact when transitioning students to distance learning. l also wrote a blog post with key interactive data visuals that demonstrated how wide the technology gap is.
As you can see from our figure on our county’s digital divide, for some school districts such as Scarsdale that has the highest rate of internet connections per household in Westchester, the challenge to get students ready for online learning is minor at best. For other school districts like Mount Vernon which is the least connected school district, it is formidable. We can only begin to imagine what a financial and logistical nightmare it was for some Westchester school districts to adapt to this crisis.
The DOE has been working hard to distribute laptops and tablets to disadvantaged students but many still have not been received and more still do not have any or adequate internet access. Students have delays and barriers in communicating with their peers and teachers and lags in receiving assignments that have them trailing in their work. Successful online learning also requires proficiency with technology, support from family members, and technical troubleshooting that expand the issue of access to one of aptitude.
This is an ongoing issue, and WCA is currently in discussion with partners to see what we can do to narrow the digital divide. We fear that the longer students wait for the ability to participate in school from home, the more they fall behind and the more likely it becomes that those same students become less likely to learn at all.
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