According to a pivotal 2008 study, by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that proposed key steps to improve equity in education, the quality of education that students receive directly correlates to their quality of life, years down the road. The study cited three critical areas that affect equity in education: the design of education systems; practices in and out of school, such as the relationships between schools, parents, and communities; and how critical resources like funding, technology, and broadband access are allocated. These are all categories in which communities of color have historically experienced systematic and structural disadvantage versus their predominantly white counterparts.
The Digital Learning Gap is caused by differences in how Americans in and out of school access and use technology to improve learning opportunities and outcomes. Corporate America must understand and work to understand its role in closing this gap.
According to recent research, inequities due to a lack in access to technology, continue to disproportionately impact poor and BIPOC communities: "One in three African Americans and Hispanics — 14 million and 17 million, respectively — still don't have access to computer technology in their homes, and 35 percent of Black households and 29 percent of Hispanic households do not have broadband." And there are stark inequities that continue to exist in school funding. A recent report found that predominantly white school districts receive $23 billion more in funding than districts that serve mostly students of color. Experts attribute this gaping disparity to "a school funding system that is reliant on geography [...] that has inherited all of the historical ills of where we have forced and incentivized people to live."
Academic achievement gaps that begin in early childhood typically continue through primary and secondary education, resulting in lower four-year high school graduation rates. This severely constricts the pipeline to college education in communities of color, affecting one's ability to secure gainful employment, access to career opportunities, and potential to land a higher wage job.
Huge gaps continue to exist in educational outcomes, high school graduation rates, college readiness and workforce advancements based on race, class, and geography. Gaps also exist between high-performing and low-performing public schools based on differences in access to funding and resources, community engagement and commitment. Technology, and especially the internet and mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, has become ubiquitous in our daily lives and more affordable to our public schools. With the internet, students can access primary source documents, research just about anything, and support their own understanding with explanations accompanied by video, animations, or other helpful digital visualizations.
Raising the level of education and other capabilities would narrow the gap between employer demand and availability of talent
Vice President of U.S. Chamber of Commerce
While college graduation rates among Black and Brown people in the U.S. are gradually rising and historically massive educational achievement gaps are slowly closing, college education attainment still lags behind corporate employer demand. This limits companies' access to well-trained minority candidates, making this a critical need for corporate America to leverage its resources to address inherited educational inequities such as access to adequate technology, community and family support, and basic funding.
The internet is now a fundamental part of the U.S. economy and culture, yet internet access is not ubiquitous. According to a report from Common Sense Media and Boston Consulting Group (analyzing 2018 census data), roughly 30% of the 50 million public school k–12 students in the United States lacked access to either high-speed internet or devices for easy access to digital learning at home. Of these young people, more than 10 million lacked both high-speed internet and a device to participate fully and consistently in distance learning. According to the same study, at least 300,000 teachers did not have Internet with sufficient bandwidth to teach online from home. While these numbers have improved, thanks to quick work on the part of some states and districts, we still have a long way to go. There are 4.4 million households with students that still lack consistent access to a computer, and 3.7 million lack internet access. By partnering with community organizations well-versed in community needs, challenges, and proven solutions, corporate sourced support can ensure devices can be made available to students most in need.
The challenge is not a new one, but the COVID health crisis exacerbated the issue between the haves and the have-nots - those that have access to the internet and can afford it for their kids, for their families, and those that cannot. It affects rural areas in our country, as well as exposes significant urban challenges where large numbers of people still don't have access to broadband. Today, as more and more of our schooling and homework is done online, not having access to fast & reliable internet connection dramatically hinders these communities in succeeding in their educational journeys.
In 2021, internet connectivity and adequate devices should be considered a necessity, not a luxury. The cost of providing our young people with these fundamental resources should be well within the reach of our collective Take On Race Coalition of companies. By one estimate, an allocation of $500 per student would cover the costs of equipping a household with an inexpensive device; connecting to a high-speed internet provider; and training, software, or other associated expenses. Given the major economic downturn and state revenue declines accompanying the pandemic-related shutdowns, there is a clear opportunity for Corporate America to invest in scaled programs that can ensure more disadvantaged students have the high-speed broadband and technological devices they need to access instruction and support. While we can point to many individual success stories, a national, scaled effort is the best way to ensure that every student in need has access to high-quality distance and blended learning.
Take On Race is a collective commitment from its corporate members and business partners to elevate the national discourse on equity in education. Our collaboration at both the local and national levels is committed to creating equitable solutions to urgently address the systemic barriers that continue to significantly hinder the educational journeys of Black and Brown students, K-12.
Increasing collaboration among organizations with existing student assistance and developmental programs intended to build employable skill sets would deliver a higher return on investment for everyone involved. Take On Race encourages examining the output of these smaller programs and then quickly advancing a "Big Idea" that defines and declares how corporate scale would make a bigger impact. We believe members have the opportunity, if not the responsibility, to scale their resources towards game-changing programs aligned towards addressing issues like "The Digital Divide" for all underserved American students and families.
Access to education is a fundamental responsibility of communities across the country. The Take on Race Coalition is collaborating with educators and community leaders to provide devices, connectivity, and tech support to one million students across the nation. Dell Technologies is here to support, help, and empower the Coalition to move forward through the Million Connected Devices initiative. Dell Technologies, our leading member, has committed to donating devices to students in need and has guaranteed a discount to any other organizations looking to provide devices to the initiative.