Millions of kids will go back to school this week and after Labor Day. I reflect upon those years that I myself was a K-12 public school teacher. There was always excitement about getting back to school. First, there was a week or two of professional development with fellow staff and administration. Second, planning curriculum and ordering materials was on the to do list. Third, the motivation to fix up my classroom — decorate with motivational posters, create learning stations and envision how I would seat my students is something I looked forward to. Comparing the necessary preparation for school opening in times past with the current times, there’s a huge difference. The days of simple and routine preparation for students is now over because health and safety have a new meaning and learning requires technology for all students to have access to at home.
The pandemic has caused major shifts in how schools will set and create plans to service our students with a quality education. But unfortunately, a quality education is not equity in education for all because technology is required for virtual learning and we know that all students do not have computers at home.
How many students from underprivileged backgrounds, students of color, students with disabilities, and rural students, will not have access to the technological tools needed to learn and communicate remotely with their teachers beginning this Fall? COVID-19 has compelled schools across the nation and globe to either continue to fully deliver instruction 100% in virtual formats, or schools are offering parents an option to allow students to attend school in person or stay home.
In April 2020, Representative Grace Meng of New York introduced the Educational Connections Act of 2020 a $2 billion fund for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to disburse for schools and libraries to purchase internet Wi-Fi service, routers and computers. Meng discussed that the funds would allow students to keep up with educational tasks virtually.
A July 2020 TIME article reported on what schools and educators must do to bring teachers current in understanding virtual learning. The article stated that teachers should have professional development and an effective integration and use of technology. Additionally, the article called for schools to ensure that “students of color, students with disabilities, and students from low-income households” are given accommodations and resources to close academic achievement gaps and prevent inequities.
I have taught students in public schools where technological resources, tech training for teachers, and at home devices were assigned and in abundance. I have also taught students in schools where technological resources were scarce, laptops were borrowed by class and for a short amount of time, and students did not have the luxury to take a computer home. For these students, I encouraged them to visit their local library to use a computer for online research or to type a paper.
Unfortunately due to COVID-19 and all of the precautions needed to keep the public safe, our libraries cannot be accessed like they once were. Our students and their families must now rely on the budgets and resources provided from schools, community or federal funding to help close the technological divide during a crucial time in our educational systems’ history.