Digital Apartheid in the Age of COVID, Making the Right to Online Access for ALL Students a Reality

During segregation at least we had dilapidated schools, and the backs of buses to sit in.  For today’s digital second-class citizens, those families without access to the internet, they can’t even get into the digital schoolhouse door.  The digital divide for the unconnected is a cliff in the age of remote schooling.   Either you are online at school or you are not at school.  For roughly 17,000 Oakland students, they are on the digital cliff, sitting outside the schoolhouse door, and threatening to fall off.

School buildings have closed and learning has moved online.  We owe every child access to school.  And when they cannot get online, they do not have access.  We also know that those left out are the historically excluded and those students we should be working the hardest for.

We can get every family off the digital ledge.  In a city rich in human and financial resources providing laptops and wireless access is a relatively simple task, IF corporations step up, philanthropist’s and tech providers come together and we listen to and meet the needs of families.


Families need devices and internet access

School is open, so it is on the districts, schools, and community to assure that students have the basic supplies.  In this age, that means two things, one, an internet capable device (laptop) and, two, an internet connection fast enough to support participation.

Many schools themselves have already distributed devices.  And low cost laptops are currently available from community partners, particularly Oakland Technology Exchange, for roughly $100-$150 per device. And they are working to provide free devices to those that need them.  It would be easy enough for a philanthropic or business partner to buy a computer for every child that needed one.  Or make a donation like that to Tech Exchange.

Home internet also should not be a huge hurdle assuming we can all come together. I have already called out Comcast offering “free internet” during the crisis and then barring families that had old debts.  Please sign our petition to make them change this policy. They are a gatekeeper for many families and they are keeping that gate closed during a pandemic.

Comcast should step up and make the free internet promise real during this crisis.  Children should not be punished for the years-old debts of families.  And you all know how those fees and charges and interest piles up and can make a once manageable bill outrageous. 

Others should step up too.  Remember when there were promises of high speed internet in whole cities for free.  And I don’t know nothing about nothing about some of this stuff, but I hear about “mesh networks” and other ways that internet service could be provided to underserved communities through technological innovation.

When schools are physically closed, the information superhighway is the road to education.  All children have a right to attend a public school, and we have a responsibility, all of us, to make sure that happens.

We can do this Oakland.  Equity means something different in the age of digital schooling.  And we cannot leave these children sitting outside the schoolhouse door.

What do you think?

More Comments