The Intersection

The COVID Constituency | Improving Education for All Students by Closing the Digital Divide

October 29, 2021

The COVID Constituency is a project developed by The Hunt Institute, in collaboration with Governor Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia. The project seeks to collect firsthand experiences, perceptions, and priorities from students, parents, and teachers, and translate them into actionable policies that will fundamentally change education for the better. This blog series will offer space to share out and amplify the desires of the COVID Constituency and provide resources that will help inform policymakers as they work to transform education, while allowing opportunity for others to contribute information and partner in this important work. 

The digital divide was a central topic in tech circles prior to the pandemic, with researchers, advocates and policymakers examining the issue. However, it gained special attention during the COVID-19 outbreak as much of the daily life of work and school shifted online, leaving students and families facing major obstacles in navigating the increasingly digital learning environment. From attending class to filling out FAFSA forms, connectivity and access to digital devices suddenly became as basic a necessity at home as water or electricity, with many calling for the internet to become a public utility.  

The past two years revealed wide disparities in internet, broadband, and digital device access. For Americans across racial groups, income tiers, and geographic regions, inadequate access to internet and technology resources, also known as the digital divide, has remained a critical barrier for 4.4 million households with students in participating fully in the education system during the COVID-19 pandemic. This lack of access has been detrimental to student learning. It translates into students missing lessons, being unable to access materials, and struggling to complete assignments — all of which have significant implications for long-term learning and success later in life. 

Among other topics, addressing the digital divide has remained a clear priority among the COVID Constituency, a group composed of students, parents, teachers, education leaders, and policymakers dedicated to education transformation now and in the future – across political party lines. National polls conducted during the height of the pandemic found that more than eight in ten parents believe schools should prioritize expanding computer availability and high-speed internet access through federal funding. Teachers agree too: More than eight in ten teachers believe that providing all students with free universal high-speed internet access is a critically important federal investment. This issue is important across party lines –  National School Boards Association Center found that 89 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of Republicans, and 70 percent of Independents viewed easier access to technology and broadband as important.  

Our team is currently conducting focus groups and surveys with Lake Research Partners to investigate emerging education priorities of the COVID Constituency, specifically around permanently closing the digital divide. From these groups, we’re finding that inequities in access and inconsistencies in use – from child to child within the same household and across educators teaching different subjects or grades – remain a critical issue in students effectively using technology for learning.  

There is clear evidence that The Constituency is looking to national, state, and local leadership to close the digital divide. In the coming weeks, we will be releasing a policy brief outlining actionable recommendations for policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels who are looking to implement lasting change. Get access to these resources early by joining our LinkedIn group 

To learn more, register for the fourth webinar in our special series on Thursday, November 18th at 3 pm ET. We will discuss lessons learned from the pandemic and future considerations for permanently closing digital divide gaps.  

We will continue to uplift the voices of this important coalition to promote profound education transformation. We hope you will consider joining us.  

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