Digital divide, term that describes the uneven distribution of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in society. The digital divide encompasses differences in both access (first-level digital divide) and usage (second-level digital divide) of computers and the internet between (1) industrialized and developing countries (global divide), (2) various socioeconomic groups within single nation-states (social divide), and (3) different kinds of users with regard to their political engagement on the internet (democratic divide). In general, those differences are believed to reinforce social inequalities and to cause a persisting information or knowledge gap amid those people with access to and using the new media (“haves”) and those people without (“have-nots”). –Schweitzer
How Education Is Affected By Access to Broadband
Broadband access and education was a common theme throughout the listening tour of Holland’s Broadband Taskforce. Local educators made up one of the focus groups, however, the topic of education was on everyone’s mind. Education was referenced during discussions about workforce development, the digital divide, at-home learning during the pandemic, and future needs.
The ways education is affected by broadband access have been exacerbated throughout the course of the pandemic. However, problems of the digital divide have been notable since personal computers became widespread in households during the 1990s. “Households in the lowest two income groups had the lowest rate of computer ownership, with less than 1 in every 5 owning PCs in 1997,” (U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics Summary, 1999). Today we are in a digital era where “digital technologies are used in almost every aspect of life,” (What is Digital Era, IGI Global). Most of these digital technologies are dependent on a good internet connection.
As a result of school closings that began in March 2020 in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, educators adapted to online learning. Most schools did not have online learning processes in place prior to the pandemic. It pushed teachers and students to use technology better. When schools reopened, some of the tools used for at-home learning remained in place. Now that online learning has been incorporated into the classroom, it is not going away. “The pandemic has made it clear that Internet access is no longer a luxury for today’s students” (Homework Gap Hits Communities of Color Harder, 2020).
Learning at home has challenges. Not all students have adequate access to broadband at home. In the City of Holland “we have a provider, sometimes they are OK and sometimes not. I sure would like to have competition,” said Jeff Pestun, Hope College.
“We see problems associated with performance issues and access. The quality of the bandwidth is not good. Students and teachers experience issues with latency and capacity. Not everyone has access. That has to do with affordability and location,” explained Brian Davis, Holland Public Schools.
Solving the problem of broadband access would not only help students in terms of school. It would also contribute to their future success. “Home internet use helps students develop digital skills that aren’t developed at school. For example, students with only cellphone access have lower internet and social media skills, lower rates of homework completion, and lower interest in school, which in turn are associated with lower grade point averages (GPAs) and standardized test scores” (What COVID-19 Underscores About How Broadband Connectivity Affects Educational Attainment, 2020). The benefits reach further than grades and test scores. Broadband is an important tool needed to enable the transformation of education to prepare students for the workforce. “With access, students can work on projects that “prepare you for the digital age. It makes education align better with workforce development,” explained Jeran Culina, Talent 2025. On one hand, there is a huge benefit to schools being pushed to make better use of technology in classrooms. Students will be better prepared for the workforce. “People need skills that are higher function in order to do jobs and to be employed,” said Jim Brooks, Talent 2025. “The virus has created something that was needed. It caused a crisis that has forced education to adapt.”
Broadband in the future needs to create “digital inclusion for the community,” expressed Mike Rower, Ottawa Area ISD. “Build enough capacity to dream about the future and how to do things differently. In education terms, ask how to build it so that we can float in and out of any delivery mode as needed. We need in-person school supported by technology, where we can float to virtual as needed.” As we look to the future and envision a scholastic model that relies on the ability to switch from in-school to at-home learning, the need for ubiquitous access to high-speed internet is evident. “How do you do online education when you can’t access the internet? Families who cannot access the virtual world will be further behind,” said Patrick Cisler, Lakeshore Nonprofit Alliance.
U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics Summary. (1999, March). Issues in Labor Statistics (Summary 99–4).
Schweitzer, E. J. (n.d.). Digital divide | society. Encyclopedia Britannica.
What is Digital Era, IGI Global. (n.d.). IGI Global.
What COVID-19 Underscores About How Broadband Connectivity Affects Educational Attainment. (2020, December 8). Pew.
Mitchell Boatman, hollandsentinel.com. (2021, March 1). Holland Public Schools selected for AT&T hotspot program. The Holland Sentinel.
Homework Gap Hits Communities of Color Harder. (2020). Community Broadband Networks.