As a new pandemic school year begins in New York, digital learning is key

It is unacceptable that schools in New York City continue to expect students to succeed knowing that access to an internet connection and reliable devices remains spotty at best.

Michael Appleton / Mayor’s Office of Photography

Students work on laptops at a New York City school in 2020.

The start of this school year marks the third in a row that students will take classes in contexts radically shaped by the pandemic. And the continued uncertainty with the Delta virus means contingency plans for distance or hybrid learning are always on the minds of parents and educators.

But for millions of students, truly effective distance learning remains elusive. A recent analysis statewide data representing more than 2.6 million students by the New York Civil Liberties Union found in New York, 14% of students did not have devices and 13% did not Internet. By the city’s own estimate, more than 1.5 million New Yorkers do not have a mobile broadband connection or a broadband connection at home.

In 2021, these figures are unacceptable. And it’s unacceptable that schools in New York City continue to expect students to succeed knowing that access to an internet connection and reliable devices remains spotty at best. All New Yorkers can recognize the value of connectivity, both digital and otherwise. Connections with people, education, opportunities – and especially in today’s world, the Internet – are essential ingredients for a successful and fulfilling life.

I know this firsthand. Growing up in Queens in a tiny apartment with a single mother, it was relationships that enabled me to access special programs at New York City Public Schools, which allowed me to become the first person in the world. my family to go to college. As long as the connectivity of New York City students with teachers and classrooms remains at risk, an entire generation of young learners will be left behind.

The Internet is essential for many aspects of daily life: registering for a vaccine, registering to vote, completing the census, filing taxes, applying for a job, seeing a doctor or training for a new career. If we treated internet connectivity like any other public service (water, gas, electricity), these shortcomings in the provision of an essential public good would be a scandal. Indeed, last fall’s news was completed with tales of frustrated parents and teachers whose students missed their first day of school due to lack of devices, or had to log in in class on a borrowed cell phone with a cracked screen. Although the city rushed to mail hundreds of iPads and Wi-Fi hotspots, the wait for learning devices lasted until six weeks in some parts of the city, and some requests may be dissatisfied.

This scrambling is all the more heartbreaking for the disparate evil it has already inflicted on young students of color. At the end of last school year, students in predominantly black or brown school districts were four times more likely to have an inadequate or no internet connection, and three times more likely to not have a dedicated device to use. for school, according to the NYCLU report. Learning loss during the pandemic also had a disproportionate impact on these students.

Despite the plan to return to fully face-to-face learning in New York this year, we all know how quickly this pandemic can upend our plans. We can no longer deny that technology and internet connectivity are absolutely crucial for students this year and every year.

The mayor’s recent devotion $ 112 million in federal stimulus funding to help bridge the digital divide is good news. Other learning devices are being distributed, in addition to the hundreds of thousands already issued last year. I am proud that recipients of the Siegel Family Endowment have helped students maintain access during the pandemic: for example, NYC FIRST, which offers STEM training to students in New York City, has sent hundreds of “Robot in a Box” kits to continue hands-on technical learning at home. But relying on this ad hoc approach is no longer an adequate response.

For thousands of students, the damage has already been done. Too many questions remain about which students get the resources they need and who are left behind. A recent controller Audit found that the Department of Education did not have formal procedures to track and review data on these released devices.

Despite the city’s challenges with virtual learning over the past eighteen months, I still believe that reinventing and creating new ways for people to learn and develop skills online is a strong frontier of technology. educational. Online learning is more than a safety net in the age of the pandemic; it’s the future. The town hall and the Ministry of Education should conduct an honest assessment of the current state of students’ ability to access e-learning.

Our new mayor is expected to create an interagency task force to address issues of access to education caused by systemic barriers, from lack of broadband and devices, missing child care services, stability of the lodging. Across the public, private, non-profit, philanthropic and community sectors, we must work together to build a comprehensive, equitable and inclusive digital infrastructure.

Katy Knight is Executive Director and President of Siegel Family Endowment.

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