Achieving Equity in EdTech: It’s a Family Thing
By Tamara Fyke
The sudden shift to distance learning this Spring, due to the coronavirus, highlighted the gap in access to Wi-Fi and devices for our nation’s students. Students in suburban areas fared better than students in urban and rural areas. Since public education is charged with teaching ALL students, when one group of students in a district does not have what they need to continue learning, then learning essentially stops for everyone. Considering the re-opening of schools this Fall, we must be prepared for multiple scenarios – full-time in the building, blended with time in building and distance learning, and full-time distance learning. Regardless of the chosen path, technology is imperative. How do we achieve and sustain equity for Wi-Fi access and learning devices in our new normal?
Some districts, like our local Metro Nashville Public Schools, have had money allocated by mayors and governors from CARES Act Funding for Wi-Fi and devices. Others may be using bonds or reserves in order to provide services. Although these long overdue actions are to be celebrated, I wonder if it is enough.
About five years ago, I was part of a committee that studied the need for and access to personal computers at schools. Some of the questions that were raised by this cross-section of community leaders, which included school personnel, were as follows: What if a child forgets his device at home? What if someone at the home hocks the device at a local pawn shop? What if an adult in the home uses the device? What if students won’t pay attention in class because they are on their computers?
At the core of these questions is a desire to control behavior. Control stems from fear.
Yes, we are in uncharted waters, but haven’t we all known this day of greater student autonomy and school reform was coming? My colleagues and I have been having conversations about this for the past ten years. We never imagined a pandemic would give us the opportunity to reflect and revise the system which has long been broken. Now we have the opportunity to rebuild, while keeping children with their past, present, and future at the center.
A child’s past includes his or her socioeconomic background, neighborhood, generational trauma – their family story. Their present is their need today, specifically their age, grade level, interests, strengths, health, family situation, and learning challenges. Their future is their personal aspirations for career and family as well as society’s expectations for them to make a positive contribution. Given this holistic perspective, which acknowledges the integral role of the family in a child’s education, what if sustainable equity in EdTech means addressing the needs of the whole family?
What if we were to provide Wi-Fi and devices for the family along with SEL and job skills training? This approach requires us to lay aside our negative beliefs, acknowledging the possibility that such negativity is the product of systemic racism. Instead, we must seek to empower families, particularly single parents, with the understanding that as our families thrive, our students will succeed.
Recommended next steps:
- Partner with private business to provide Wi-Fi and devices for families, such as T-Mobile, who provides access and tablets to students around the country in both urban and rural areas.
- Repurpose classrooms at local schools or meeting rooms in community centers as training centers for families.
- Partner with faith communities to staff the training centers and teach SEL and job skills.
Yes, I understand that what I’m proposing requires great effort. However, now more than ever, people are willing to help each other because we understand that we are stronger together.
About the author
Tamara Fyke is an educator and creative entrepreneur with a passion for kids, families, and urban communities. She is the creator, author, and brand manager for Love In A Big World, which equips K-8 educators with a social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum that is both research-based and practical, and also provides the supporting resources necessary to empower students to be socially competent, emotionally healthy problem-solvers who discover and maintain a sense of purpose and make a positive difference in the world.
Tamara is editor of Building People: Social & Emotional Learning for Kids, Schools & Communities, a book that brings 12 wide-ranging perspectives on SEL to educators, parents, and leaders. Follow her on Twitter .
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.