The Digital Divide? It's at Your Local School, Too

Posted by Dewitt Robinson

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The biggest divide in our education system is not the achievement gap, but the ever widening digital divide. I teach at an old, urban, inner-city high school in Jacksonville, Florida. Over 73 percent of our school population is on free or reduced lunch. Many of my students do not have desktops, laptops, or tablets in their homes. Local libraries close early, and students are left with little to no options to get internet access for studying, research, and developing skills for postsecondary education and/or the workforce.

My students don't have adequate access to technology at school, either. I only have four computers and an outdated projector in my classroom. This isn’t unusual in classrooms across America. District and state funding sources are limited to upgrading to the necessary tools and purchasing instructional materials.

I often wonder, why is it that our education systems require teachers to take strides in creating effective engaging classroom environments without adequate funding to support these initiatives? There is a lot of conversation about the flipped classroom model today. Many point to Khan Academy and Coursera as models in this area. Those have merit—and I have a great deal of respect for these solutions—however, without access to them they remain another good idea to know about without my students able to use them.

Why is it that we have too many groups committed to the process of educating our students, but not the outcome? The one-to-one laptop initiatives that we see showing up in school districts across America are proof positive of how big an impact this shift of technology integration has on classroom instruction.  

And, why is it that often in more affluent communities access to advanced instructional aids is more readily available, while urban, inner-city schools lack the basics to help students? Common Core Standards are being implemented in school district’s everywhere. If you are reading this and haven’t heard of CCS, you will, very soon. CCS are going to push every teacher and student—including those in urban schools—into more rigorous instruction. Ed tech tools have the ability to help foster and support advanced and struggling students alike as this new wave of standards develops. Without access to those tools, urban students are guaranteed to fall behind on the Common Core.

Despite these questions, I'm still moving forward with teaching and learning in my classroom. I refuse to sit by and allow my students to go through the remainder of this academic year without attempting to raise the money to purchase the technology needed to assist them. I have a campaign on HopeMob.org—you can donate here—and hope to get enough donations to purchase a full classroom hardware and software suite including 30 Google Chromebooks and an interactive whiteboard. (I also need dry erase boards because, believe it or not, we still have chalkboards in our room.)

New schools are being built where classrooms are equipped with more hardware and instructional resources than listed above. This is the bare necessity for my geography and world history students. No teacher should have to fundraise to get these kinds of resources, but if I want my classroom to evolve into a facilitator led, self-directed, 21st Century learning environment equipped with modern tools to impact student achievement, I have no choice.

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