Tech Gaps Limit Some Students’ Contact With Teachers

Research from Georgetown University has found that while schools have been able to put devices in students’ hands, Internet access determines how much live contact they have with teachers by phone, video or in-person.

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(TNS) — In a new analysis released today, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found schools filled gaps in students' access to computers during the pandemic, but not access to the Internet. Children learning remotely largely depended on their households for Internet, said the center.

And that has amplified inequities. Researchers said lower-income K-12 students are less likely than higher-income students to have access to the technology to undergird virtual learning. As a result, lower-income children have less frequent live contact—in person, by phone, or by video—with their teachers.

Higher-income peers are twice as likely to have live contact with teachers, according to the report, "Virtual Learning Is Not Child's Play for K-12 Students."

Earlier today, State School Superintendent Richard Woods discussed Georgia's connectivity challenges at a House Education Committee meeting. Georgia, too, saw more success getting digital devices into the hands of students during the pandemic than in securing internet for them, said Woods.

"We stand pretty good with devices across the state," said Woods. "The harder problem is these children who are really isolated in the country. To say we are going to put something there for a child who is 20 miles out, we are going to have to work a little bit harder."

The state and districts labored to get more children online, said Woods, citing a doubling of bandwidth in every school and installation of extenders in school buildings and 3,000 WiFiRanger hotspots in buses to expand connectivity.

But the pandemic laid bare the opportunity inequities that always existed in the state, said Dana Rickman of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education. Uneven access to virtual devices and the internet cannot be solved by school districts alone, she told lawmakers at the House meeting. It demands a strong state policy framework.

At the end of May 2020, 88 percent of white households with students enrolled in public or private K-12 education in Georgia reported having regular access to a computer for educational purposes, compared to 75 percent of Black households and 68 percent of Latino households, according to GPEE. During that same time period, 90 percent of white families reported having reliable internet access, compared to 85 percent of Black families and 72 percent of Latino families.

GPEE's "Top 10 Issues to Watch in 2021" delves into challenges facing Georgia's Black Belt, 69 school districts in 67 counties that have historically and continue to be systematically disadvantaged compared to the rest of the state, including in connectivity. Households in the Black Belt are twice as likely as households outside the region to lack access to high-speed Internet, according to GPEE.

"The pandemic is a setback for low-income students not just when it comes to their K-12 education, but possibly for their chances of going to college and eventually entering the middle class," Georgetown CEW Director Anthony P. Carnevale, lead author of the analysis.

According to Georgetown:

In the fall, 21 percent of households with incomes under $25,000 reported that their children had no live contact—whether in person, by phone, or by video—with their teachers in the past seven days,  compared to 11 percent of households with incomes over $200,000.

More than 70 percent of households with K-12 students shifted to some form of online learning during the pandemic. But low-income students do not always have the resources they need for distance  learning.

In the fall, among households with incomes below $25,000, 61 percent reported that computers were always available for educational purposes, and 55 percent reported that the internet was always available. By contrast, about 90 percent of households with incomes above $200,000 reported always having access to computers and the internet.

As the pandemic continues, more households with K-12 students have reported having access to computers for educational purposes, with an increase from 70 percent of households reporting always having access in the spring to 78 percent of households reporting the same in the fall.

At the same time, however, internet access has improved only slightly, with 74 percent of households reporting always having Internet access in the spring, compared to 75 percent in the fall.

By the fall, schools were providing computers to 65 percent of households with K-12 students, compared to 39 percent of households in the spring. However, schools provided Internet access to  only 4 percent of households with K-12 students in the fall, compared to 2 percent of households in the spring.

(c)2021 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.