The Urgency of Creating a National Student Need-Based Computer and Internet Program Has Never Been Higher
The unavailability of proper technology resources for some students makes their education an increasing challenge
Although technology has been a driving force behind American education for years, it has been recently thrust to the forefront because of widespread distance learning necessitated by Covid-19. Due to cost and accessibility, tech resources aren’t readily available for all students. It’s time for the country to finally get behind a national initiative of a need-based computer and internet program.
These days, computers and the internet are as essential to students completing their schoolwork as pencils and notebooks were generations ago. They not only give access to resources (reading material, research and interacting with peers and teachers), they also represent the medium in which most work must be done. Whether it be typed papers or submitting work or receiving feedback through dedicated portals or programs, it’s virtually impossible to be fully engaged with a curriculum without access to these tools.
Students who don’t have immediate access to a computer or internet at home face significant challenges. Just recently, a story went viral of two small children seen doing their homework sitting on the ground in the parking lot of a Salinas, California Taco Bell in order to take advantage of their free WiFi. With so much distance-being offered, their creativity is simultaneously applaudable and representative of the issues at hand.
Some schools already offer assistance when it comes to computers. Some internet providers have graciously made free internet available to students during the pandemic. However, this is a problem that persists regardless of the public health crisis.
To ensure that all students have access to the basics needed to have the fullest access to their education possible, need-based computer and internet programs should be a priority to establish nationally. School districts have offered free and discounted lunch and milk programs for years. We are now at a point in time where technology is just as important.
The idea of allocating more tax dollars to such programs can elicit a heavy groan from many. There is no denying it is an additional expense but is also one that is a smart investment. Schools, not to mention society, can’t afford to have students attempting to complete formal education on such unequal footing. So many other disparities already exist that aren’t nearly as easy to address as this.
With some internet providers already providing free access at the moment, it’s hard to imagine that if need-based computer and internet programs were initiated nationally there wouldn’t be a willingness to partner from any number of tech companies, thus helping drive costs down. In fact, the opportunity to create partnerships is good business in addition to good community stewardship.
Collaborations have been popping up in various areas already. In California, Google recently announced the donation of 4,000 Chromebooks to students and free Wi-Fi for up to three months to 100,000 rural households. According to EdSource, “Only about a third of California households in rural areas are subscribed to internet service, compared with 78 percent in urban areas…”
While the one-off partnerships are valuable and much-needed progress, unifying them into something that is available nationally is critical. Standardizing access to computers and internet would ensure such resources were readily available without having to search out and apply for multiple opportunities with differing requirements and application methods.
Giving all students access to need-based computer and internet programs won’t solve all the problems with the American educational system. However, it would be an important step in helping level the playing field and ensure children have a fighting chance to keep up in a system so reliant on technology.