Access to education fundamentally changes life outcomes. And after all, isn’t that the penultimate goal of our overworked educational community?
For a long time, technology enabled access to education. Gradually, learning management systems created efficiency and awareness, along with, admittedly, a healthy dose of frustration. Recently though, the COVID-19 pandemic put a turbo-boost on this evolution that would put Barry Allen (aka, “The Flash”) to shame. Seemingly overnight, education moved from paper and pencil to a massive global supply of online tools.
Digital learning offers huge opportunity
Digital learning unlocks a virtual (no pun intended) treasure chest of opportunity. With digital learning, teachers might consider each student’s abilities and cater learning plans and curriculum to offer personalized instruction. But that’s just the beginning!
Digging deeper into that treasure trove of opportunity, digital learning also provides the following priceless nuggets:
- Fun, engaging lessons for today’s tech savvy student
- Access to an incredible breadth of information
- Ability to produce and share recorded content
- Availability of resources 24x7x365
- Connection to other students
- Flexibility to accommodate different learners and learning styles
- Easy tracking of student achievement and advancement
- Integration of parent and guardian involvement into the teaching and learning process
- Preparation of students for our increasingly technology-enabled workforce
- And so much more!
Now that digital learning is so engrained into our K-12 school systems nationwide, it’s difficult to understand how we succeeded without it. Imagine trying to eliminate digital learning from a school district—students, parents, teachers, and administrators would revolt!
Digital learning is an absolute necessity for a district to achieve its necessary academic outcomes. And, of course, those academic outcomes impact future budgeting. Therefore, and make no mistake about it, a school district’s financial foundation is directly linked to effective digital learning.
However, digital learning comes with its own set of challenges, and the most fundamental challenge is the concept of digital equity and our very real digital divide.
Ensuring digital equity and overcoming the challenge of the digital divide
The digital divide in education represents the unequal access to technology and digital resources for learning. Disparities in digital access, also referred to as digital equity, remain challenging for K-12 education. Schools and libraries are, of course, connected. However, the sudden and pervasive prevalence of out-of-school digital work required to achieve academic outcomes requires adequate internet connectivity off-campus.
Off-campus is precisely where the digital divide comes to play—the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has reported that nearly 17 million schoolchildren are without internet access at home. This digital divide, also referred to as “the homework gap,” disproportionately affects underserved segments of school district communities. Simply, the digital divide, a digital inequity, places too many students at a distinct disadvantage.
Solving for the digital divide has not been easy. School districts are notoriously understaffed in many specialties and the Information Technology group is no exception. This already-overburdened function, frequently outnumbered by students at a 1000:1 ratio or more, is challenged in ensuring all students have digital access.
Prior to the introduction of Lightspeed Systems’ Digital Equity Module, a component of Lightspeed Digital Insight™, IT leaders lacked tools to determine which students lacked necessary internet access, either through network availability or the often-overlooked overall health of connected devices. Now, with both, IT leaders can gain a granular understanding of the breadth of their district-wide challenges.
Insightful understanding of a district’s root digital equity opportunity in turn becomes the first step in obtaining supportive funding at both state and federal levels.
Digital equity as a digital learning prerequisite
If there are any universal truths in K-12 education, they are 1) a significant portion of learning will continue to take place outside of the classroom, and 2) digital learning will continue its meteoric rise.
For successful learning outcomes, both universal truths require internet access and healthy devices. Subsequently, digital equity is the foundation on which successful digital learning outcomes are built. Without digital equity, digital learning, such an integral part of today’s K-12 educational system, is destined to fail students in underserved communities.
Scholastic success is predicated on equitable access to technology. As such, creating digital equity will continue to be a priority for every school district.