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Closing Digital Divide – The Key to our Students’ Success

Lack of connectivity creates economic challenges

Rich Jennings //September 20, 2017//

Closing Digital Divide – The Key to our Students’ Success

Lack of connectivity creates economic challenges

Rich Jennings //September 20, 2017//

Families across Colorado are sending their kids back to school, and the ability to connect to the internet at home is increasingly one of the top school “supplies” to ensure students are equipped for tackling their studies.

However, more than 14 percent of Colorado’s population does not have sufficient internet access. The majority of those without access are from low-income households, which are less likely to subscribe to broadband services at home compared to higher income families.

This lack of connectivity has created a fast-growing digital divide separating those who have access to high-speed internet connections at home and those who do not.  This issue has a profound impact on individual students, families and Colorado’s economy as a whole.

The FCC attests that seven out of 10 teachers assign homework requiring high-speed Internet access. Studies show students suffer academically when they don’t have Internet access at home. A report from the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) found access to technology leads to significant gains in student achievement, particularly among students most at risk for dropping out of high school.

When we think of “Inclusion” we often think of things like social inclusion or diversity, economic inclusion or the fairness in the distribution of wealth.  What we don’t often think of is “Digital Inclusion” and the significance this particular type of inclusion has in a young child’s life. 

As my three daughters (all four years apart) grew up, I noticed a transition in how they received and delivered information.  My oldest daughter grew up bringing report cards home, handing in hardcopy homework assignments, and ultimately filling out paper applications to colleges and jobs and mailing them in, anxiously awaiting her affirmations.  My youngest, who is still in high school only knows the electronic iteration of her progress report, the digital exchange of homework assignments, and now online applications to colleges. 

In a lot of American households, this type of transition happened seamlessly over time.  But in many neighborhoods- like the one I grew up in, it still has not happened.  In some neighborhoods and parts of Colorado, kids are still struggling to keep up with activities happening at a pace, and in forums that they just cannot access!  This creates a gap far more reaching than we may see on the surface.  This hurts the child’s ability to grow, and it hampers our ability to grow as a community. 

The millions of low-income Americans who lack access to the internet at home often lack the basic digital literacy skills they need to be prepared for today’s jobs.  Without basic digital literacy skills they won’t be considered qualified for higher-paying “middle-skill” jobs.  Middle skill jobs are those requiring more than a high school education, but less than a bachelor’s degree. These vital jobs like police officers, electricians, paralegals, dental hygienists, and registered nurses, comprise 39 percent of U.S. employment. 

“The pace of technology is changing so much of our lives, including how we work. Our children are tomorrow’s workforce. As a community, we have a responsibility to make sure all of our children have access to the tools and resources they need to succeed – and be prosperous – in today and tomorrow’s world,” says Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. “Providing reliable Internet access at home is one way to ensure students and families have access the information and networks needed to succeed in school, work and beyond.”

Access to the internet makes it possible for students to achieve in the classroom at the same pace as their peers. According to a recent survey of Comcast customers, 98 percent of families are using their internet service for schoolwork, and 93 percent of families feel their service had a positive impact on their child’s grades.

In August 2011, Comcast took on the task of helping bridge this digital divide by launching Internet Essentials, which is designed to comprehensively address barriers to digital literacy, broadband access, and the cost of a buying a home computer.

Internet Essentials offers low-cost, high-speed internet service (with a complimentary Wi-Fi router) to low-income households across the nation – including communities throughout Colorado served by Comcast. The program offers the option to purchase computers at a low rate, and provides digital literacy training in print, online, and in person at no cost.

As of this month, more than 1 million families across the nation have signed up for the program, benefitting more than 4 million low-income Americans. Here in Colorado, nearly 168,000 low-income residents are connected to the internet at home through Internet Essentials, but many more eligible families can still benefit from this service.

Our work as a community is just beginning. Digital Inclusion is more than just providing internet access to our children (and adults), it is a matter of social justice, providing hope to a community. And it’s an economic imperative for Colorado.

No single company, education institution or government program can close the digital divide alone.  To empower productive young people who can help advance our state and keep us competitive with the outside world, we need the public, non-profit organizations, and private companies to all join together.