By LaKeshia Myers
COVID-19, better known as coronavirus has come to wreak havoc on the world. While we have been focused on the virus’ devastating health-related impacts, I have become intrigued by the glaring inequities that have been exposed during this crisis. But, alas, all has not been lost because I remember an old adage from my grandmother who says, “necessity is the mother of invention”.
Throughout this crisis we have been forced to modify our lives utilizing technology, which is one of our greatest inventions. From relying on virtual learning platforms like Google classroom, K12.com, Khan Academy, and ABCmouse.com—teachers across the country have had to come to the realization that students may not return to brick and mortar schools this semester. Instead, their focus has shifted to creating virtual classrooms that can be accessible to students wherever they are. One of the disadvantages of this model has been understanding whether or not students have access to the internet at home. This is called the “digital divide”— which is the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not. The term, coined in 2001, by scholar Lloyd Morrisett, told the tale of the growing divide of accessible technology for low income people, people of color and those who live in rural areas.
While I first came in contact with this phenomenon in a high school technology course, it has remained a constant reminder that the face of the “haves and have nots” can live silently among us. Over the past twenty years, the divide has continued to grow wider with each technological advance. Back then, we worried about locations that had no access to internet; today, the focus is on access to and the speed of internet. The United States’ mandatory move from analog to digital in 2009, was the first indicator of how technology had not reached those who live in remote areas. When I began my tenure as a state legislator in January 2019, one of the first conversations I had in the assembly was about the implementation of 5G and the lack of broadband access in rural Wisconsin. I can only imagine that the coronavirus school shutdown has amplified rural America’s rally cry for adequate internet service.
As an educator, I can see the blessing in the midst of this crisis. I foresee school districts embracing virtual education more in the future. I see it as the bittersweet evolution of the profession. With students and families having more modalities in which to learn, schools and educators will be forced to adapt. With there being a sharp decline in the number of teachers graduating from undergraduate education programs I can see districts utilizing online education as a means to expand their course offerings. I also envision technology corporations becoming better corporate citizens by offering more services to families that have the greatest need—primarily those in rural or abject poverty.
I believe we will survive the COVID-19 crisis together. But we will become more cognizant of the things that divide us; and access to technology will be seen as one of the greatest commodities needed for everyday survival. I urge all policymakers, technology providers, and online education providers to lead the way in thinking outside the box. Begin to do the work of ensuring that we bridge the digital divide, because our children are depending on it.