My View: For education equity, bridge digital divide
A new school year has begun, bringing new hopes and dreams. And while we like to think each child in every class will meet the year with equal opportunity, we know that's not true.
As many of us see every day, far too many students begin the year behind their peers. At Self Enhancement, Inc. (SEI), we work every day to create an environment in which success for all is achievable. This can be an uphill battle since 78% of our students come from low-income households, and 83% are eligible for free-and-reduced-price lunch.
The disadvantages can be clear — a lack of school supplies, for instance — and they also can be less obvious. Nationwide, only 7% of households earning at least $75,000 lack home access to the digital tools that dominate modern life. For households making less than $30,000 a year, that number spikes to 47%.
That 40% difference is what's known as the digital divide. It's all of those lower-income households that can't log on and take advantage of the opportunities wealthier households have.
Without home internet, it's harder to apply for jobs. It's harder for veterans to apply for benefits. It's harder to make medical appointments, keep up with the news, or do a million other tasks so many take for granted.
Kids without home internet have a harder time doing homework, and we can calculate the consequences. An Associated Press analysis of U.S. Census data found a 10% gap in reading scores between kids whose homes had internet, and kids whose homes didn't. They're left to struggle in a digital world.
Overcoming the digital divide requires teamwork — partnerships that not only have the resources to make a difference, but those with the ability to raise awareness among the groups that can benefit the most.
In August, Comcast announced it was expanding eligibility for its Internet Essentials program to anyone already participating in one of more than a dozen federal assistance programs. Internet Essentials tackles not only access, but also digital literacy.
Eligible participants can get high-speed home internet for $9.95 per month plus tax with no contract or credit check. An internet-ready computer (either laptop or PC) is available to purchase for less than $150. Instruction — available for free online, in print, or in person — covers topics like social networking, cyber-bullying, email basics, online safety and security and coding.
Since its inception in 2011, Internet Essentials has helped connect more than 8 million people living in 2 million homes, including 52,000 households in the Oregon/Southwest Washington region. With this expansion, which now includes many seniors and people with disabilities, the program could help more than 190,000 households here in this region.
For the kids enrolled in educational and wraparound support programs like SEI's, this expansion means access to the resources that keep them on task and on schedule. That means more success in the classroom, and in the future.
Rodrigo Lopez is the regional senior vice president for Comcast's Oregon and Southwest Washington operations. Libra Forde is chief operating officer for Self Enhancement, Inc.
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