(BPT) - A sense of normalcy can be found again in K-12 classrooms across the country, but change is ever present. Although most students are now able to attend class in person, learning loss from COVID closedowns is apparent, especially for students who lack internet access.
The pandemic accelerated the already problematic digital equity gap — the difference between students who have reliable access to technology and internet and those who don't. Connectivity in today's learning environment is a necessity for students to have equal opportunity to learn and thrive.
Deciphering the digital divide
The digital equity divide was like a volcano bubbling below the surface before the pandemic. Allen Pratt, the executive director for the National Rural Education Association, forecasted in a 2019 op-ed the dangers of inadequate internet access: “Without broadband connectivity, kids living in rural areas are being prepared to compete in a 21st-century economy with 20th-century tools.”
When the pandemic hit, that volcano erupted. As classrooms across the country closed down, learning for millions of kids came to a near halt because they didn't have the technology and internet connectivity to continue their school work. That learning loss compounds today as teachers are now tasked with the challenging job of helping students catch up when they are months behind.
In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics released education progress scores showing just how devastating the last two years of unfinished learning have been for 9-year-old schoolchildren, particularly the most vulnerable. While math and reading scores dipped across the board, Black and Hispanic students lost 13 points and 8 points respectively, compared with five points among white students.
Each point lost, according to Andrew Ho, a professor of education at Harvard who was quoted about the scores in a recent New York Times article, is the equivalent of about three weeks of learning. That’s 39 weeks of lost learning for Black students alone.
Closing the gap
Closing the digital equity gap is key to recovering learning loss from the pandemic as well as for positioning all students for success in the future. That's why some technology companies are stepping up to lead the way in helping students nationwide, especially those that have in the past been overlooked.
"T-Mobile announced our Project 10Million initiative in 2019 and launched it in 2020. We saw this massive issue right in front of us and set out to eradicate it. We activated against an audacious goal of providing 10 million at-risk students with a free hotspot, free or highly subsidized data plans and access to at-cost laptops and tablets," said Mike Sievert, CEO of T-Mobile.
From inception to today, T-Mobile has invested $3.65 billion in services to connect more than 4.3 million students through collaborations with school districts and student families across the country. This is especially important as hybrid school environments become the new normal, where kids need to tap into the internet to do their homework and studies during afterschool hours.
"While we’ve worked closely with over 1,500 school districts around the U.S. and have options available for consumers to directly participate in the program, we’ve also seen great results from new approaches. We’re partnering with reputable youth networks such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, which expands our reach into the nonprofit’s 230 agencies across 5,000 communities," said Sievert.
Parents and guardians of eligible K-12 students can enroll in Project 10Million at T-Mobile.com/project10million. School administrators and educators can learn more about Project 10Million and apply for their district at T-Mobile.com/p10m.