Students’ access to internet, devices focus of online education panel

Internet

Former North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue joined Sen. Deanna Ballard and Sharon Contreras, superintendent of Guilford County Schools virtually Thursday to discuss connectivity concerns for North Carolina students.The virtual briefing was held Thursday morning as families across the Triad prepare to send their students back to school next month. Perdue, now the managing director at Perdue Strategy and founder of digiLEARN, said she believed the state needed to invest in connectivity and it should be thought of like other forms of infrastructure including electricity and plumbing.”Technology should be wrapped right into that definition,” she said. “We need to figure out a way to finance a massive infusion of infrastructure into our cities and small towns and schools and hospitals.”Perdue said it will take significant investment, but that it is imperative to ensuring children have their constitutional right to an equitable education in North Carolina. Speaking specifically to concerns within Guilford County Schools, Contreras said of surveyed family in her district 3,000 children are homeless, 17 percent of families reported they don’t have access to high speed internet at home and 26 percent of Latino families and 20 percent of Black families did not have an adequate number of devices at home to support remote learning. “Philanthropy is an inadequate solution to systemic racial inequities and the digital divide is exacerbating the racial wealth gap,” she said. “Lack of devices and internet connectivity is a threat to our very way of life in this country. I applaud our teachers for the work they’ve done but I ask the FCC to wield its influence over telecom companies on behalf of low income students.”Contreras urged North Carolina lawmakers to negotiate with providers to combat the academic hurdles many of her students face due to lack of internet access or reliable devices.She said 97% of students accessed online learning during the spring, however, 2,300 students never logged on and another 4,200 only logged in during first couple of weeks. She said thousands more logged on intermittently during the first wave of remote learning.”Clearly the U.S. education system was not built to deal with extended shutdowns like those imposed by a pandemic,” she said. “We shut down at a achievement disparities persist across income levels, and between white students and their Black and Latino peers. Clearly this shutdown is exacerbating learning loss for these students.”The three panelists agreed: There needs to be more buy-in for telecom companies when it comes to problem solving a “digital dive” and ensuring students have equal access to their educations amid the pandemic and beyond.The group also said they believed it would take teamwork, private and government support and to ensure students receive equal opportunities to their education, especially during times of virtual learning. Ballard said she is concerned the data reflecting technological gaps are not accurate depictions of the situations students are face.”It’s important for us in the legislature to really get a handle — with the Department of Public Instruction, that’s our education agency in the state — to understand who has what, who has secured what they need as far as devices and then understanding what gap we need to fill,” she said.Ballard said she also wants teachers to be included in discussions about how to spend relief funds, adding some longtime teachers may need professional development to help learn how to teach in a new digital format.Earlier this month, Gov. Roy Cooper said districts could welcome students back on campus for in-person learning if strict social distancing guidelines could be met and COVID-19 screening could take place. Numerous districts, including Guilford County Schools and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, will start the school year online. “We continue to struggle with internet connectivity. We continue to struggle with enough devices and we even struggle in school with how we project the lessons so all students can have synchronous instruction,” Contreras said.Both Guilford County Schools students begin classes Aug. 17.After nine weeks of online learning, the school board is scheduled to vote on how to move forward. That meeting is scheduled to take place Sept. 24.

Former North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue joined Sen. Deanna Ballard and Sharon Contreras, superintendent of Guilford County Schools virtually Thursday to discuss connectivity concerns for North Carolina students.

The virtual briefing was held Thursday morning as families across the Triad prepare to send their students back to school next month.

Perdue, now the managing director at Perdue Strategy and founder of digiLEARN, said she believed the state needed to invest in connectivity and it should be thought of like other forms of infrastructure including electricity and plumbing.

“Technology should be wrapped right into that definition,” she said. “We need to figure out a way to finance a massive infusion of infrastructure into our cities and small towns and schools and hospitals.”

Perdue said it will take significant investment, but that it is imperative to ensuring children have their constitutional right to an equitable education in North Carolina.

Speaking specifically to concerns within Guilford County Schools, Contreras said of surveyed family in her district 3,000 children are homeless, 17 percent of families reported they don’t have access to high speed internet at home and 26 percent of Latino families and 20 percent of Black families did not have an adequate number of devices at home to support remote learning.

“Philanthropy is an inadequate solution to systemic racial inequities and the digital divide is exacerbating the racial wealth gap,” she said. “Lack of devices and internet connectivity is a threat to our very way of life in this country. I applaud our teachers for the work they’ve done but I ask the FCC to wield its influence over telecom companies on behalf of low income students.”

Contreras urged North Carolina lawmakers to negotiate with providers to combat the academic hurdles many of her students face due to lack of internet access or reliable devices.

She said 97% of students accessed online learning during the spring, however, 2,300 students never logged on and another 4,200 only logged in during first couple of weeks. She said thousands more logged on intermittently during the first wave of remote learning.

“Clearly the U.S. education system was not built to deal with extended shutdowns like those imposed by a pandemic,” she said. “We shut down at a achievement disparities persist across income levels, and between white students and their Black and Latino peers. Clearly this shutdown is exacerbating learning loss for these students.”

The three panelists agreed: There needs to be more buy-in for telecom companies when it comes to problem solving a “digital dive” and ensuring students have equal access to their educations amid the pandemic and beyond.

The group also said they believed it would take teamwork, private and government support and to ensure students receive equal opportunities to their education, especially during times of virtual learning.

Ballard said she is concerned the data reflecting technological gaps are not accurate depictions of the situations students are face.

“It’s important for us in the legislature to really get a handle — with the Department of Public Instruction, that’s our education agency in the state — to understand who has what, who has secured what they need as far as devices and then understanding what gap we need to fill,” she said.

Ballard said she also wants teachers to be included in discussions about how to spend relief funds, adding some longtime teachers may need professional development to help learn how to teach in a new digital format.

Earlier this month, Gov. Roy Cooper said districts could welcome students back on campus for in-person learning if strict social distancing guidelines could be met and COVID-19 screening could take place. Numerous districts, including Guilford County Schools and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, will start the school year online.

“We continue to struggle with internet connectivity. We continue to struggle with enough devices and we even struggle in school with how we project the lessons so all students can have synchronous instruction,” Contreras said.

Both Guilford County Schools students begin classes Aug. 17.

After nine weeks of online learning, the school board is scheduled to vote on how to move forward. That meeting is scheduled to take place Sept. 24.

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