The internet has quickly become a vital educational resource, yet not every student enjoys easy access to the web. Unequal access to resources — books, educational materials, even gym equipment — has long been linked to negative outcomes in education. Here’s exactly how unequal internet access affects lower-income students, as well as a few ways parents and schools can help close this digital divide.
Less Access to Online Resources
Parent-teacher communication has moved online, and so has student work. Homework is assigned and turned in via online portals and feedback is given on assignments virtually. While this shift to digital is great for record-keeping, reducing paper cost, and waste, for students without easy access to the internet, staying on top of assignments can be stressful. Handing in assignments late because a student couldn’t access the internet to research a paper or access the homework portal can negatively affect their grade. Falling behind on assignments is a slippery slope. If this is a persistent problem, then poor grades will reflect poorly on college applications and may even prevent students from pursuing higher education.
Hotspots for schools allow students to access the internet anywhere they have cellular service. Students without household internet can use these hotspots to stay on top of their homework, hand in assignments, and pursue other educational opportunities from the comfort of home, without having to spend time looking for a free WiFi hotspot. These hotspots not only provide students but parents and siblings with access to the internet as well, allowing entire households to take advantage of the many resources available on the web.
Fewer Higher Education Opportunities
Advanced Placement and online college courses allow high school students to earn college credit before leaving high school. Some schools cover the cost of this tuition, allowing students to get a head start on their higher education without taking on the financial burden of paying for credit hours. It’s estimated that taking college courses and advanced placement classes saves students hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in tuition. Low-income students would most benefit from cost-saving educational opportunities, as it reduces the financial burden they will face in college. For students who do not have consistent access to the internet, taking these courses may be an impossibility.
School WiFi hotspots can provide students who want to pursue higher education in high school a consistent place to access the internet so that they can interact with their classes, coursework, and hand in homework. Mobile hotspots installed in buses allow students to access the internet during the ride to and from school or after school events. In doing so, schools can help support students’ educational aspirations.
Decreased Parental Involvement
Schools increasingly expect households to be able to connect to the internet. School announcements, progress reports, and report cards are sent via email and online portals. Medical and athletic forms are hosted online for easy access by coaches and athletic directors. While this increased connectivity improves communication and administrative organization, it puts families without access to the internet at a disadvantage when it comes to supporting their students’ academic pursuits. When parents are involved in their children’s education, educational outcomes improve dramatically. With communication moving online, parents without access to the internet are left in the dark about problem areas their children may have in school and how they might be able to help at home.
Nonprofit programs help to connect low-income families to the digital resources and internet access they need. Families that are enrolled in government welfare programs, such as SNAP and Medicaid, can receive discounted internet and digital devices through certain nonprofit organizations. For households that prove a financial need for reduced-cost internet access, most major carriers will also offer internet plans at a discounted rate that eases the financial burden for families.
Education is one of the most important factors when it comes to determining income and employment opportunities as an adult. By working hard to provide equal access to the internet for all students, we can help students realize their full potential.