Students with insufficient access to the internet have fallen behind academically during the pandemic, and experts are worried that the concerning trend could continue even after schools reopen, Axios reported.
Students across the country have relied on their internet connection for access to their education for almost a year, but nearly 12 million children don’t have the connections they need for remote learning, Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group found, according to Axios.
The digital gap impacts rural and minority students the most, and has exacerbated a “homework gap,” acting Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel told Axios. Thirty percent of parents or guardians in households with an income of less than $50,000 said their internet access is inadequate for remote school, a Marketplace-Edison Research Poll showed in October.
Even when schools reopen, however, some aspects of remote learning will continue, which could push students from homes without sufficient internet access further behind if programs aren’t developed to provide such resources. (RELATED: ‘We Are Breaking’: Parents Describe How Virtual Learning Has Traumatized Their Children)
“One of the lessons I hope that gets learned during all this is that internet service is expensive,” Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, told Axios. “Now we have to come up with a long-term solution to address that.”
Texas, California and Florida have the most students without sufficient internet access, while Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama have the highest proportion of students who aren’t sufficiently connected to the internet, Axios reported.
Some states have addressed the issue by providing free or low-cost internet options for the 2020-2021 school year. In Colorado, a public-private partnership was developed with T-Mobile to provide up to 34,000 student households across the state with WiFi hotspots and data.
Chicago introduced a similar public-private partnership that had the goal of reaching 100,000 public school students in four years. United Way of Metro Chicago agreed to pay the bills for student households without internet, while philanthropy donors also helped cover the costs for the last two years of the four years of service, Axios reported in July.
The program in Chicago helped connect 50,000 students to the internet by December, and it aims to help connect another 50,000 by June. Comcast also announced plans to connect 1,000 community centers to WiFi by the end of 2021, according to Axios.
Congress also created a $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to help low-income households get internet access during the pandemic, which reimburses participating internet providers. The monthly discount off internet service per month is up to $50, and on tribal lands, it can be up to $75 per month, according to the FCC.
The cost of closing the digital divide for students is at least $6 billion and as much as $11 billion in the first 12 months, according to Common Sense Media. It would cost an additional $1 billion to close the divide for teachers.
“The homework gap existed before the pandemic and it will persist after it if we don’t make it a priority right now to get every student the broadband connection they need,” Rosenworcel told Axios.