The equity and homeworking gap has always been an issue across the K-12 EdTech space, not just between developed and undeveloped markets, but also within markets - amongst the more affluent in society and those closer to the breadline. Michael Boreham, Senior Consultant at Futuresource Consulting discussed this important issue at Ed Tech Collaborative together with Keith Krueger, CEO at Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), Michael Flood, SVP & GM Education at Kajeet and Ben Brown, Head of Market Development and Strategic Relationships at Promethean.
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Boreham opened the premise that the equity and homeworking gap had been accentuated by the COVID crisis. However, it has also given industry and governments an opportunity to make and build on the investment made not only to address the shortfall due to the current crisis, but also to plan for and enable skills for the graduates and workforces of the future.
Never Mind the Gap! It’s a Chasm
In terms of the education homeworking gap, Krueger stated that the term ‘gap’ was an understatement. “The gap is getting bigger and bigger - it’s not just a gap, I would say a chasm”. Krueger re-enforced the issue of unequal access to tech by stating that in the US, “it could be as many as 15 or 16 million students who are disproportionately black and Hispanic, who are most likely to not have a device. The big challenge here is home internet connectivity”.
Prior to the pandemic, Krueger added that in a recent survey of U.S. Chief Technology Officers felt they were on a pretty good pathway, with nearly all saying they had broadband at-school and about two thirds of middle and high school classrooms in a one-to-one environment. “However, on March 13th, the day that most US schools went remote, they found that having one-on-one environments for most of the classrooms at school was something completely different than providing that at home”.
Bridging the Equity Gap During a Pandemic
Brown referred back to the crisis roll out from the English Department of Education and its ‘Help with Tech’ initiative, set up to enable teaching and learning during the pandemic. It provided grants to schools that did not have a cloud-based platform to deliver remote lessons; invested in 300,000 devices to get technology in the hands of the less advantaged children and also provided access to broadband via dongles and LTE devices. However, on the wider issue of the equity and the digital homework gap, he suggested it was a drop in the ocean and access to education anytime is key, not just in school time.
“In the first five months of the pandemic, technology in education and the use of it moved forward five years. And it's our responsibility now to make sure that elastic band doesn't snap back to where we were before,” stated Brown.
Flood added, “We have an opportunity to prevent that by ensuring all students have equal access to the technology, the devices, the broadband, and the support needed to really engage in an equitable fashion”.
The whole panel went on to discuss how regression in EdTech eco systems’ development and accessibility created through the pandemic may be challenged, along with the potential funding scenarios and how the experiences of parents, teachers and students will ignite ‘political will’ based on home schooling, teaching and learning experiences. All of these factors are essential building blocks that we do need in place to repel regression and create the force needed to prevent the elastic band from snapping back, as mentioned by Brown.
‘Political will’ was highlighted as a paramount force by Flood, especially now that parents have had good visibility into what is now happening inside of schools. “During COVID, every parent has been responsible for creating their own learning environment in the home, connected to various school platforms. This really has created hands on knowledge and awareness of what is needed to support education from a technology perspective”.
Parents were not alone; teachers also upped their technical skillset. Krueger cited a study by Education Week in the United States, just three months into the pandemic where teachers were asked whether their skillset around technology had significantly increased, somewhat increased, or stayed the same. 44% said that it had significantly increased, whilst another 41% said somewhat. “For almost three decades, we've never seen a spike like this - a big needle of teacher tech preparedness moved over a very short period,” stated Krueger.
Flood added more narrative to this: “We really exposed both the need for the technology and its impact, including the positive impact that having technology can have on expanding students’ opportunities. In addition to this is the understanding that the inequity gap is very, very prevalent, which does need to be addressed. We have seen significant movement in the United States to address that, with major funding at both the federal and state and local levels,” added Flood.
COVID the Catalyst for Government Investment
The panel then continued to discuss funding and how COVID-19 was the catalyst to an unprecedented level of government investment in countries as diverse as the US, the UK, Peru and Kazakhstan, as well as being the accelerant behind the GIGA project in Japan. This project concentrated five years of planned investment activity into less than 12 months. Governments had to invest to address shortcomings.
However, the discussion then shifted to what funding models might look like in a post COVID world, given that it might be a very different economic environment. If recessions hit, other priorities could come into play, creating a potential requirement to look elsewhere for funding, perhaps more to charity or more to parental funding.
Krueger stated that, “charity has been very important in the short-term crisis, however in the US, it is not a sustainable model.” Krueger added that “the Biden administration has provided dedicated money, previously just an option under the pre existing CARES Act. Now, under Biden, there is over $7 billion that's going to be rolled out in the next 60 days to schools and libraries to address this home connectivity and device challenge”.
There was also mention of an initiative a few years ago in Portugal, the goal being to provide a device within each home. A third of it was paid for by government, another third approximately by industry, and the final third was paid for by the families. The family portion was scaled based on family income.
Establish Industry Standards and Broadband Access
The panel then came onto the importance of establishing industry standards, critical steps to supporting the future of online learning anywhere, which included setting standards together with centralised approaches to public EdTech infrastructures for both levels of broadband access and device requirements.
In the US the International Society for technology and education were cited for setting standards for students, educators, administrators and for school districts. CoSN has a framework for the technology environment and the technology leadership, within school districts and within administration. There are a number of frameworks that are used in the United States, together with the Department of Education in the UK also trying to drive a centralised EdTech strategy through similar initiatives in Scotland and Wales. Krueger stated, “we wouldn't buy a bus and then not maintain it or hire a bus driver and not repair it. School districts do have plans for facilities and items for scale for sustainability.”
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Ed Tech Collaborative 2021
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