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K-12 Education Equity, the Digital Divide, and COVID-19

2020 has been a year of stark challenges, exposing privilege and inequity across economic, health and educational systems. Equity, specifically in the context of education, refers to every student having the resources and support they need in order to succeed academically. The opportunities for learning for students during the COVID-19 pandemic have been mired by inequity – varying drastically and have been correlated with student location, racial demographics, family income-level, and special needs.  

While digital inequities existed and impacted students before COVID-19, the shutdown of physical school buildings has exacerbated them and brought necessary attention to thissue. This Digital Divide is one manifestation of inequity in education and describes the gap between students who have sufficient access to and knowledge of technology to succeed academically, and those who do not.  The resiliency 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.  

We know access is a foundational piece of educational equity and for many years, access to institutionalized education was inherently tied to the access to physical school buildings. No matter the background and individual challenges of students, once inside the walls of a school, students 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. 

There is an opportunity to increase educational equity – in the midst of these challenging times- by addressing the Digital Divide head on, affirmatively examining inequities, and investing in solutions that support access to and resilience of learning opportunities for all students.  

In our recently released discussion paper Education Equity, the Digital Divide, and COVID-19 we examine some of the equity concerns correlated with COVID-19 and K–12 education— and provide foundational knowledge in the hopes of facilitating meaningful action towards alleviating inequity and creating resilient systems of learning. It includes recommendations for how education leaders can use this crisis as an opportunity to propel us into a future where all students have more robust and equitable learning opportunities. 

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