“Mom,” yelled my second-grader from upstairs, a little panicked, “I can’t get the image to print!”
We were one week away from his project’s due date. The poster board had been procured, outline was written, and markers were ready. While I patted myself on the back for not putting everything off until the last minute, my son was visibly nervous about not meeting his one-week-away deadline.
I trudged upstairs and saw the collection of images to be printed in his Google Docs, marveling at how far we have come in this new age of kid research projects. After quickly troubleshooting our WiFi printer connection, he was off to the races, printing and cutting documents in a flurry of project prep.
I stepped back for a moment to think about how bringing his project together required access to a computer, the internet, and years of experience navigating the waters of modern technology. Revealing my age a bit, I can still recall the days of the Dewey Decimal System and hand-written book reports. Do you remember physical encyclopedias? If I suggested we head to the library to look up something in an encyclopedia, my kids would think I’ve lost my mind. “Why don’t we just Google it?” they’d say, no doubt.
The Digital Divide
This is a generation of children who learn to type alongside learning to write by hand. They look up recipes online instead of in a cookbook. Students check their grades via internet-based accounts. Computer literacy is a necessary component to student success, and it is as fundamental to a classroom as school-provided textbooks.
However, most aspects of digital schoolwork, including home internet, are NOT provided by schools. While all children deserve access to the same educational tools, the financial burden of online access falls almost entirely on families. The cost is significant, boxing lower-income children out of a large portion of today’s education.
Thankfully, our partners at Comcast are doing what they can to close this digital divide by providing connection and hardware to qualifying families via their amazing Internet Essentials program. Through Internet Essentials, families access low-cost home internet service (currently $9.95/month!) and free digital literacy classes, offered both in-person and online. Participating families also have the option to purchase an internet-ready computer for only $149.99. There are no hidden fees, no installation costs, and no activation charges.
Families qualify if they are eligible for public assistance programs such as Medicaid, SNAP, the National School Lunch Program, and many others. Internet Essentials was established in 2011 and has provided over 8 million low-income Americans access to the digital world at home. The company has invested more than $650 million in digital literacy training as part of the Internet Essentials core offerings. This year, Comcast announced the expansion of the program to include more than 3 million newly-eligible households.
When I first learned about Internet Essentials, I thought back to my six-year-old’s project, how much he had relied on our home technology to complete it, and how nervous he had been about finishing on time. How differently would this have looked if we hadn’t a computer or internet? PPS has 24 Title 1 schools (my son’s included), where this digital divide is only growing. I am thrilled to share Internet Essentials with our schools’ PTAs and community members who may benefit. Many thanks to Comcast for spearheading this program!