Addressing the impact of the digital divide

The education world has been changed drastically with technology and the internet playing a bigger role than ever before. Ensuring all students have access to quality devices and internet connection is vital. Photo: Shutterstock
The education world has been changed drastically with technology and the internet playing a bigger role than ever before. Ensuring all students have access to quality devices and internet connection is vital. Photo: Shutterstock

With teaching well and truly entering the online world during home learning, it's time to investigate how this can be integrated physically in schools.

Looking at how schools can connect digital spaces with physical spaces will be vital in returning to the classroom post lockdown and into the future. A lot of the work done online at home has been identified as "busy work" that doesn't translate in the classroom.

"Connecting the work done at home in school will create bridges that will help in the move back into the classroom," Melbourne Graduate School of Education lecturer Catherine Smith said.

She believes this connection can be taken a step further to integrate and recognise children's online experiences at school.

"We recognise sport but not virtual gaming," she said. "It is really evident that gaming can be really inclusive. Kids with disabilities or kids with social anxiety can shed restrictions of the body; they're not pigeonholed by the identity that's in physical features. They can explore identity in new ways."

This online world is vital for many children and can enhance learning and social aspects of life. But what about those children who might not have access to devices, let alone a reliable internet connection?

Families living in low socioeconomic situations can struggle with internet connection in terms of quality and cost, plus the availability of devices to learn online.

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows on average, 85 per cent of Australian households have internet access. This increases slightly to 88 per cent for people in major cities and drops to 77 per cent for those in remote areas.

"We see families where there are 11 or 12 in a home with one device that makes it hard to get kids online. Even if you do, how will bandwidth hold up?" Smith asked.

"It's really important to consider how they will study and access communication from the school outside of lockdown too.

"We lost a line of communication when paper newsletters stopped getting sent home, and communication went online. This loss of connection is part of the reason for the digital divide."

This divide was exacerbated with lockdowns seeing children learning from home.

For some schools, the transition was relatively simple; they already had an online platform with logins, laptops and students were learning at home in a matter of days.

This wasn't so manageable for other schools, with some struggling to establish home learning due to families' location or socioeconomic status.

These differences came down to funding in the classroom and at home. "We have a unique opportunity now as we have worked hard to connect families out of necessity, so there's no better time to address it," Smith said.

"Some of the issues are outside the classroom as equity often is. We need to look at how people are connected, how expensive it is and at the digital divide."

This story Learning in lockdown illuminates a digital divide first appeared on The Canberra Times.