On Digital Learning Day, Let’s Support Internet For All Now
A Western Elementary School student interviews Sunne Wright McPeak
By Sunne Wright McPeak
For California and the nation to remain a global leader of innovation, we must close the Achievement Gap among K-12 students. But that goal will remain elusive unless we first close the Digital Divide. Today we celebrate Digital Learning Day, and the great promise that technology can bring when integrated successfully in the classroom and at home.
Digital learning in the 21st Century means far more than computers in the classroom.
Let’s start with the basics. Many students still lack a high-speed Internet connection at home. While significant progress has been made in increasing home Internet use, the sad news is that 25%—a full quarter of the U.S. and California populations—remain stuck on the wrong side of the Digital Divide. These households are mostly in urban poor neighborhoods and remote rural areas.
The last two statewide Annual Surveys have confirmed that these residents are up against the “wall of poverty”—inter-related factors and forces that constitute a huge barrier to overcome and escape—resulting in low-income households being left behind at an accelerating pace. Four of ten Latino California households do not have Internet at home, according to the 2014 Annual Survey conducted by the Field Research Corporation which included support from the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF). Fifty percent of households earning less than $20,000 a year do not have Internet at home.
Low-income families without home Internet (which requires a computing device and Digital Literacy) can’t apply for most jobs, take an online course to improve workforce skills, bank online, access online public services, or communicate with their child’s school. Having access to a computer and high-speed Internet at home is essential to learn the skills necessary to move out of poverty and close the Achievement Gap. California public school students are now required to take assessment tests on a computing device and those without daily experience at home using a computing device—desktop, laptop or tablet—will be at a significant disadvantage.
These are the reasons why the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) is so focused on driving to results with accountability. It is why CETF developed and launched School2Home, and why CETF is working strategically to reshape public policy so it integrates technology into the solutions of most major societal challenges—education, workforce training, healthcare, infrastructure, economic development— concepts referred to as Digital Inclusion and Neighborhood Transformation.
School2Home works; it narrows the divide in digital learning and the achievement gap. School2Home is in low-performing middle schools throughout the state and integrates computer and Internet technologies into teaching and learning, both in the classroom and at home. CETF knows that access to technology at home and an intense focus on parent engagement are essential for students to thrive in the Digital Age.
One of the foundations of School2Home is the requirement that parents take 6 hours of computer training before the student is allowed to take home the computing device used in the classroom. Highlighting how important parent participation is, the 2014 Annual Survey found parents who have an Internet connection other than a smartphone at home were highly likely to go online at home to help their children learn (84%) and to obtain information about their children’s homework and grades from the school website (75%).
For a state and a nation that are known worldwide for developing technology, our goal should be nothing less than providing our students with tools to learn any time and any place, and at any pace.
The best way to celebrate Digital Learning Day is for all of us to commit to promoting public policy to make Internet affordable for all now.
Internet For All Now is the public awareness and education mobilization initiative that is being advanced by CETF and has been joined by more than 120 civic leaders and community organizations and over 50,000 individuals. For more information, please visit www.InternetForAllNow.org.
The group is urging federal and state regulators to seize the opportunity presented by pending corporate consolidations to ensure a widely-available affordable Internet rate that will enable all low-income households to be connected and empower all residents to participate in the Digital Economy.
We must rise to the occasion and embrace Internet For All Now—it is a 21st Century Civil Right.
Sunne Wright McPeak is President and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund, a statewide non-profit established by the California Public Utilities Commission to promote Internet adoption in underserved communities.