Expanding opportunities for underserved students that lack additional resources can change the trajectory of their life. Providing internet connectivity can help these students push past their limited surroundings to achieve new heights in technological innovation. If not for genius-minded innovators, we might not enjoy the same quality of life as we do now.
Dr. Patricia Bath was the first African American woman to receive a patent for a medical device. Her Laserphaco probe was a medical breakthrough that allowed non-invasive cataract removal. Upon her observation of the sight disparity between Harlem Hospital patients and Colombia University patients, Dr. Bath began her research into ophthalmology. A new discipline called Community Ophthalmology was born and served to fix those medical disparities. She entered the medical field at a time when Black women were underrepresented due to education and employment biases. Despite the limits of her environment, she was not only able to assert herself in a white, male-dominated space but also opened doors for the next generation. Diversity in the STEM industries breeds innovation and benefits us all.
On average, Black students are facing limited access to digital resources at a higher rate than white students. Due to this limited access, Black students are facing a disadvantage in the pursuit of STEM careers compared to their peers who already have device capability and knowledge by the time they enter higher education institutions. School districts have the power to bridge this gap in accessibility to resources by providing digital devices for immersion inside and outside the classroom. This can lead to improved test scores and greater interest in the pursuit of STEM careers.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 8th grade students who use a computer at home tend to have higher reading scores than students who do not. Access to a digital device with internet capabilities seems to encourage students to read more often which will only improve their reading abilities. Students who have a computer at home are also able to access online learning resources that could assist with schoolwork. Websites such as Khan Academy provide a 24/7 portal of tutorial videos and practice problems to reinforce concepts that students are learning in school. Without these valuable online resources, it is difficult for underserved students to get the additional help they need if they cannot afford the time or money for in-person resources like tutors, libraries, after school programs, etc.
Students cannot be expected to utilize the full potential of digital learning resources when they lack accessibility. According to the Pew Research Center, 17% of Black households are smartphone dependent for internet access. Most of these families are low-income which can prohibit Black students from reaching their full potential. These students have a harder time accessing online resources for tutoring services and may not have the additional time or support at home to supplement their education. This is troubling when 90% of highschoolers are assigned multiple internet-based assignments every month.
Imagine a young Black student arriving home after a 45-minute bus ride, taking valuable time away from responsibilities at home and schoolwork. This same student is now struggling to finish their homework because they do not have Wi-Fi or have a slow broadband connection. Either way, this student is unable to complete the online portion of their assignment and now must find alternative methods to submit their work. Even if the student can access the internet, now they might have questions about the assignment but no parents at home to assist them. The libraries in their area may be too far away or close early. How can that student get those valuable questions answered? These are some of the real-life concerns Black students face.
Using technology in the classroom prepares students for the future landscape of the STEM work field. Jobs are becoming more technology dependent, relying on computers and internet connectivity to grow and manage business operations. Even knowledge, or lack thereof, of something as simple as Microsoft Office can significantly impact a future employee’s work. Increased usage of computers both in the classroom and at home increases a student’s interest and enhances their understanding of technology.
During the 2019/2020 school year, ten middle school teachers utilized sensor immersion units in their classrooms to increase understanding of sensory technology and data displays. Variation in the successful understanding of this technology rested on the language teachers used. Overall, students were given an opportunity to study a piece of technology more intimately and challenged to hand draw a model of the data display. They were also given activities that allowed them to generate their own data sets, making the exercise more immersive for the students. Throughout this learning unit, students were generating more in-depth questions to further their technical understanding and increasing their interest in technical innovation. By the end of the program, 20% of the students were able to provide a general description and model of the sensory technology and data displays.
In today’s world, access to higher income can be awarded through educational institutions. College graduates between the ages of 22-27 make $524 more per week compared to their non-college graduate peers of the same age range in 2020. Access to higher education is often stunted by lack of financial resources and funding. Many scholarships and grants require online applications, putting low-income and Black students who lack internet resources at home, at risk of missing their opportunities to apply. Not only are these students missing college funding opportunities, but they are also missing access to valuable ACT/SAT prep programs and resources. Now in this digital age, there are online prep courses and materials for low prices or free. Those programs exist to give students with an economic disadvantage a chance to catch up to their peers who can afford in-person tutoring and classes. Without internet connectivity at home, these students are forced to rely on finding free Wi-Fi locations outside of their home.
STEM careers are on the rise, with 47% of these occupations reliant on computers. Technological literacy is essential for graduating high school students who may be encountering these devices (laptops, tablets, etc.) for the first time in college or at their workplace and lack technical proficiency. Their peers may have had access to and became acquainted with these devices throughout their childhood, putting them at a clear advantage. Access to STEM careers can be improved through knowledge affirming via certifications and college degrees. Although some STEM careers like Cybersecurity may not require a degree, they still require proof of knowledge via professional certifications.
As average working adults, we have extensive access to free or price-reduced Wi-Fi services. Coffee shops and fast-food restaurants like Starbucks and McDonald’s have been successful in using Wi-Fi accessibility as a marketing tool to retain clientele. They understand that providing a free service is an investment for their customers and improves retention rates. School systems should understand that providing equitable solutions for mitigating the digital divide is an investment in their students’ future and success and growing the community. The students will be more likely to utilize online learning resources that could determine their success rate in the classroom. By utilizing digital learning resources, students are more likely to earn their high school diploma and pursue higher education.
A real solution to addressing internet connectivity issues amongst low income and minority students is mobile study halls. ConnectED Bus provides students with the additional time necessary to complete assignments when they are used to competing for time on public internet connected devices such as library computers. A wi-fi capable bus changes a student’s average 30-minute commute into a mobile study hall. For students who live in rural areas that face longer commutes, they are given back their time to use online tutoring services, complete assignments, do research and more. Addressing the digital divide regarding internet connectivity, students can now learn to be comfortable and familiar with technology.
Mobile device hotspots and wi-fi enabled Chromebooks are crucial for students without reliable internet connectivity. They are an easy solution to close the digital divide at home where students may have slow broadband connection, if any at all, and there are limited internet-connected devices. As evidenced above, internet connectivity at home improves educational scores which can motivate students to complete their education instead of dropping out.
If school systems are successful in providing more technological privileges, they can imbue on students the desire to explore technology further. Fostering a healthy interest in STEM will motivate students to pursue higher education and career fields that are STEM related. It is imperative the education system provides an opportune learning environment that aids students in overcoming the limitations of their circumstance. There are countless minds left uncultivated due to poor support systems, financial instability, and lack of resources. Low income and minority students overlap and are at risk of repeating poverty patterns when denied opportunities that could impact their lives. It is time for the education system to change their future and utilize more digital resources both inside and outside the classroom.