The digital divide in a post-COVID world

July 23rd 2021

COVID shone a spotlight on the digital divide – the Isometric team shares some insights on what that means in a post-COVID world.

 Working towards full digital equity in schools

 In today’s digital world, access to devices, skills and data aren’t just nice-to-haves – they’re must-haves. With technology embedded in almost every aspect of life, younger generations are facing a world where not having digital access is a setback.

 The global pandemic forced schools, teachers and students to pivot to online and distance learning, but it also shone a bright light on the inequalities that exist within education – specifically, those students who didn’t have access to a device or an internet connection at home. 

 Lockdowns highlighted the importance of addressing the digital divide for children and young people because, without a suitable device or internet connection, they were at a disadvantage. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that access (or no access) leads to a much broader set of issues when it comes to education and technology.

 The reality of a global pandemic

 Young people shouldn’t have to choose between data and their next meal, but that’s the harsh reality for many children and their families, especially those living in low-income households. 

 Pre-COVID, things were arguably a little less restricted, with access to free Wi-Fi and shared devices available during school hours. But while some young people have a high gadget count – the latest laptops, smartphones, tablets – others in poorer suburbs are lucky if they have a shared family computer.

 During lockdowns, the Ministry of Education identified 60,000-80,000 unconnected households where school children were living. Among the various support initiatives to help students learn remotely, by November 2020 the Ministry had distributed over 16,000 school-owned devices and delivered over 25,000 new laptops, Chromebooks and iPads to students.

Equality of access and experience 

The current situation has also demonstrated that access is only the first step toward equity – data and devices are only useful if you know how to use them. While considerable work is being done towards equality of access, it’s just as important to ensure there’s equality of experience too, so all students can leverage technology 

Going digital is a different way of learning 

Many online learning opportunities are designed for those who have the competencies to learn effectively. They don’t take into consideration the higher levels of independence and self-motivation often required for online and distance learning. That means students who don’t have the necessary skills and knowledge to drive their own learning are vulnerable – not only in a learning context but in a social context too. 

Some parents lack digital access and skills too 

Not having access to the required devices or data is a tangible marker of household income and can represent the digital nous (or lack of it) of others in the household or school too. Even with access to a device and data, bridging the gap also relies on teachers and parents having the ability to keep pace with technological change. 

Increased risk of cyberbullying 

Then there are the security risks and implications of a digital classroom extending beyond the four walls of a traditional classroom. Screen time has significantly increased for many young people, who, without the proper education around cyberbullying and online security, will be more at risk. Students who are already at a disadvantage will likely lack the emotional resilience and know-how to protect themselves. 

Maintaining the momentum to close all gaps 

The COVID crisis has highlighted the inequities of the digital divide. Students without digital access are not being prepared for the modern workforce and the ability to engage effectively with online learning opportunities is not universal. What schools need is an IT strategy that goes beyond just providing online access, to ensure students gain the skills they need to get the most out of technology, while also building a secure digital environment in which students at all levels can thrive. 

At Isometric, we’re all about finding ways to make tech more accessible and secure for your school. Get in touch with the team today to see how we can help you improve your digital policies and skills. 

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