With each year, technology is becoming more integrated into people’s lives. In education, teachers try to blend it with other tasks to prepare students for using devices in the future. Moreover, COVID-19 forced educators to transition to online teaching, which cannot be facilitated without the technology that allows them to access study materials and do assignments. Approximately fourteen percent of students have only one device in their household, which is problematic if they have siblings or other family members who need to use this device for work or education purposes. This paper will examine the issue of inequality and the digital divide in education.
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Social inequality manifests in many ways, but policymakers should pay attention to issues that affect children’s learning in particular. Moore, Vitale, and Stawinoga (2018) define the digital divide as a gap between some people’s knowledge and technology access. For example, some groups are educated about information security and digital literacy from an early age. They can use devices with the latest software and hardware, benefiting from all the advantages this technology offers. However, others lack these opportunities and cannot access devices at all or can only use outdated technology. Ramsetty and Adams (2020) state that technology may be contributing to a gap between different social groups becoming bigger. This issue is linked to the fact that more services are now transitioned into the digital equivalents, including education. Although this is a positive thing that should contribute to people’s learning and ability to access different services, some individuals simply do not have a digital device, which leaves them without an opportunity to use these services.
The digital divide in education results in a student’s inability to leverage all learning opportunities. McLaughlin (2020) states that 230,000 pre-K-12 students in New Jersey do not have access to sufficient resources, including digital technology, that would allow them to learn properly. Moore, Vitale, and Stawinoga (2018) report that 14% of students only have one digital device at home. Potential issues with this limited access may include the inability to do homework or review study materials because this device is shared by all family members. This issue is sometimes referred to as a “homework divide,” since some students face challenges when they try to complete assignments that require them to use laptops (Moore, Vitale & Stawinoga, 2018). Students’ ability to learn is hindered by their impaired access to technology devices because they cannot keep up with integrating technology into teaching.
The digital divide manifests not only in the ability to use a personal technology device. McLaughlin (2020) cites other potential barriers, such as slow internet, obstructing student learning. Understanding of information security and digital literacy are also factors that contribute to the divide since students may be unable to use the devices properly. The students who can access up to date devices have an advantage over those who have to use outdated technologies since modern websites work better on laptops with updated software and hardware. Hence, without the opportunity to have high-speed internet to access classes and participate in online learning and having no opportunity to purchase new hardware, the digital divide seriously impairs the learning of these students.
The digital divide in education is an extension of problems that underserved populations face. Having low income, being the first one to attend college, or being a minority are all factors that are associated with the “homework gap” (Moore, Vitale & Stawinoga, 2018, p. 2). These factors lead to a person or a family’s inability to purchase a sufficient number of digital devices, hindering access. Although access to technology involves factors such as having a personal device, other issues, such as lack of digital divide classes, are important as well. Therefore, it is impossible to resolve the problem of the digital divide without addressing systemic issues within this society.
During the pandemic, the digital divide deepens the inequality between students. Lockdown measures require people to study from home, and those who only have one laptop are unable to study properly. Typically, a school can work on reducing the number of assignments that require a digital device, communicate with parents to informant them about low-cost options, collaborate with the community, and work on expanding access opportunities from school. However, most of these strategies cannot be followed during a pandemic. Ramsetty and Adams (2020) argue that COVID-19 will change the way services are delivered, and the digital divide may become a pressing issue for educators and policymakers who want to provide equal opportunity to all students.
To conclude, this paper addresses the issue of the digital divide in education. The global pandemic prompted educators to rethink the way they interact with students. Considering the fact that many children have access to a limited number of devices at home, the digital divide may be adversely affecting their educational opportunities. Moreover, slow internet or limited technological literacy are contributing to the digital divide as well.
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McLaughlin, T. (2020). Digital divide? Inequality issue runs much deeper, says researcher.
Moore, R., Vitale, D., & Stawinoga, N. (2018). The digital divide and educational equity.
Ramsetty, A. & Adams, C. (2020). Impact of the digital divide in the age of COVID-19, Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 27(7), 1147–1148.