Navigating the homework gap through the pandemic and beyond

While the rapid shift to digital learning has been hard enough for UK pupils with adequate resources, the nearly 1.78m kids without access to a device and the nearly 1m children without a mobile internet connection at home have been left further behind

If there’s one thing the coronavirus crisis has taught us, it’s that education systems around the world need to be more agile and ready to adjust to new processes and procedures at a moment’s notice.

The education sector has been forced to embrace remote learning, leaving 1.78 million children without access to a laptop, desktop or tablet, and one million children without a mobile internet connection at home, at risk of being left behind.

Across the pond, the United States has been fighting a similar battle to reduce the homework gap for many years. As COVID pushed most students into remote learning, some states have secured broadband for all students – like Nevada and Connecticut. While challenges remain and school systems vary, below are some takeaways from our experience during this trying time:

Take inventory

The first challenge to close the homework gap is to identify which pupils lack reliable internet connectivity and/or devices at home. To streamline this process, administrators must take inventory of each student’s remote learning needs; doing so will allow schools to formulate a plan for the most efficient solutions for students. One thing to keep in mind is that not all students are stationary – some live between multiple homes or don’t have a fixed address, and while one of these locations may provide connectivity, it’s possible that the other does not.

Be flexible

Network availability can vary significantly from town to town. And for schools in rural areas or those where students are spread out over a large range, relying on only one provider can prove limiting. When considering solutions, those that can provide multi-carrier connectivity will help to ensure all students, regardless of location, can access their digital curriculum.

Create annual technology budgets

While the pandemic uncovered digital inequities among students, once we return to in-person learning, the need for internet access will continue. Instructional time with teachers, whether in-person or online, is only a portion of how students learn. As soon as a class is over and the students now must study, research and complete assignments, those left without internet access will fall behind their peers. It’s therefore essential to have a sustainable plan to avoid going backward once students are back in school.

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To combat this disparity going forward, the government should work with schools to create funding and budgets to provide connectivity to those who need it. Equitable broadband access is a major component and priority in a national digital equity strategy. Additionally, schools should empower their senior staff to make these critical decisions.

Develop curricula with connectivity in mind

Moving forward, educators and administrators should also develop curricula with their students’ connectivity status in mind. This includes limiting mandatory video sessions or assignments that require mass amounts of data. Until the homework gap is successfully closed, instructors must consider students with limited or no internet access when assigning at-home assignments to ensure they are not disadvantaged compared to their classmates who remain connected.

The education system must continue to adapt to remote learning quickly in this ever-changing landscape. On the bright side, this is a prime opportunity for the schools throughout the UK to eliminate the digital divide among their students. Achieving digital equity will lead the way to new opportunities to improve education going forward.

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