With the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation evolving hourly, and so many educational institutions transitioning to online education or outright shutting down, mass disruption of education is unfortunately occurring in real time. While this is disheartening, we can take immediate steps to avoid some of the negative consequences. Extraordinary measures at all levels are happening daily and hourly, yet we need even more partners to step up to immediately change policies so that students all over California can benefit. This means partners outside of education and philanthropy.
Since the Internet was introduced to the public in the mid-1990’s, there has been a digital divide. Persons with low incomes and persons of color have had less access to technology and the internet at heightened levels. My entire dissertation was focused on this issue in the early 2000’s, but at that time, there was no social media; the cloud was only where rain poured down from. It’s also safe to say that online education was in its infancy, and most jobs did not require proficiency in tech.
With this in mind, the California Public Utilities Commission (“CPUC”) regulates, among other things, Telecommunications and Broadband. The Commissioners, along with the California legislature, should immediately call for all internet providers to rapidly deploy free high-speed internet service to all students and low-income families throughout California. The internet is a utility, not a luxury. During this emergency, if students do not have access to campuses or to their online classes, learning will stop. We can’t allow that to happen. At LA Community Colleges, philanthropy has stepped up with 1,200 laptops that are being distributed; I challenge each K-12 school district and every community college district to call upon local foundations to grant sufficient funds for the lease and/or purchase of laptops for students that are forced to stay at home. While we appreciate our smartphones, writing term papers and disseminating academic information from them is a significant hardship. The digital divide has never been more pronounced, than now.
When the federal, state, county, and city government all declare emergencies at the same time, we have a duty to speak up for our most vulnerable. If we don’t, millions of young people, and others seeking upward mobility, will have their education delayed, resulting in long term negative consequences for those individuals, their families, future generations, and our nation at large. I’m not willing to live with that on my conscience.
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