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Families find throwing laptops and Wi-Fi at students isn't enough to bridge digital divide

January 23, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 49.2%. 2 min read.

When schools switched to virtual learning, there was a huge effort to get needy students connected online. But parents in Oakland, California, found they needed more than just technology.

(CNN)Every education expert knew that when the pandemic shuttered school buildings last March, America's persistent digital divide would be a huge problem.

And administrators across the country warned that even students who had access may not have enough devices or a reliable enough connection to go to school online.

It was a huge problem, but one that appeared to have a relatively easy solution -- governments, philanthropies and tech companies banded together to push out hundreds of thousands of devices to students who didn't have them.

Governments and internet service providers worked to provide reduced-cost or free broadband connections and Wi-Fi hotspots to families who couldn't afford them.

"We don't appreciate just how much of a steep curve that this is for families," Lakisha Young, a founder of Oakland REACH, told CNN.

Oakland REACH provides intensive tech support for families who may be trying to use internet tools for the first time.

Connie Williams is one of the caregivers REACH works with.

She is a strong advocate for her grandkids, who are all students in Oakland schools.

REACH gives people like Williams an intensive tech support program, as well as a dedicated person who checks in regularly and makes sure things are running smoothly.

Young said some families they work with have never set up an email account or used a system like Zoom.

REACH's program worked for Williams and, according to Young, it's worked for a lot of other families in Williams' situation.

And not every student's family can get access to that kind of assistance.

And so, as American students head toward the second half of this pandemic school year, Young says the lasting digital divide means a lot of students are going to be left behind.

"I definitely think that there's going to be significant learning loss, especially where folks have not adapted to providing innovative and creative ways to really, really support families holistically," she said.

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