COVID-19 has brought critical attention to the chasm between the learning opportunities of students who can access learning digitally in their homes and those of students who cannot. We know access is a foundational piece of educational equity, and for many years, access to institutionalized education was inherently tied to access to physical school buildings. Once inside the walls of a school, students from different backgrounds had the opportunity to learn. However, a student’s ability to learn has always been determined in part by their access to learning opportunities once they leave the school, including digital access.
The prolonging of the need to deliver fully remote instruction in an emergency capacity has exacerbated these digital inequities and brought necessary attention to the issue. This Digital Divide is one manifestation of inequity in education, and it describes the gap between students who have sufficient access to and knowledge of technology to succeed academically and those who do not. The resilience of educational systems across the world has been tested during this pandemic, and those students most impacted by the Digital Divide have faced the biggest challenges in continuity of learning.
High-quality educational technology has the potential to enhance the learning experience of every student, on both an individual and a systemic scale. However, without systemic actions to ensure all students have access to the digital infrastructure and skills needed to perform, the increased use of technology in everyday schooling will continue to expand the digital divide. We have the opportunity—and moral responsibility—to address the digital inequities in a way that will not only improve the education of all students but also build resilience into our educational systems, today and well into the future.
In our recently released Canadian discussion paper “Education Equity, the Digital Divide, and COVID-19,” we examine some of the equity concerns surrounding COVID-19 and K–12 education, raising this as a foundational issue with the hope of facilitating meaningful action toward alleviating inequity and creating resilient systems of learning. This paper includes recommendations for how education leaders can use the lessons they learned from the first year of online education delivery to propel us into a future where all students have more robust and equitable learning opportunities.