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Arkansas State University

COVID-19 And The Homework Gap

A photo of two young girls sitting outside a Taco Bell has sparked an overdue conversation about access to technology in general and, more specifically, the homework gap. The girls balance their laptops and other school supplies in a valiant attempt to attend online classes while seated on the curb. The photo went viral in a tweet from Los Angeles city councilman Kevin de León (@kdeleon). De León wrote, “This is California, home to Silicon Valley … but where the digital divide is as deep as ever.”


What Is the Digital Divide?


The so-called “digital divide” is nothing new: Experts have been talking for decades about the gap in access to technology between distinct groups of people. Although significant progress has been made to bridge the gap, the most affected groups are still people of color and lower-income households.

According to a study by Pew Research conducted in 2018, before the world would adapt to the pandemic, around 17% of students are unable to do their homework because they lack a reliable computer and/or internet connection at home. This number rises to 25% when asked of only Black students. Also, 12% of all students rely on a public Wi-Fi connection to do homework, which rises to 21% for the same Black population.


How Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Affected the Homework Gap?


By April of 2020, The New York Times estimated that more than 55.1 million students in the United States were out of school when educators had to find new ways of teaching students overnight. After the start of the pandemic, the homework gap transformed into an education gap, since access to computers and high-speed internet replaced books and pencils as the most-needed school supplies.

Many schools adopted online platforms and began remote learning, but only those that were able. If the digital divide was a problem before, it has certainly become a full-blown issue in the face of COVID-19. Without in-person classes, how can students from traditionally underprivileged backgrounds continue pursuing their schooling?

Some districts developed innovative solutions. According to Indianapolis Public Schools superintendent Aleesia Johnson for EdSurge, “Indianapolis Public Schools distributed devices to students who lacked them, then ordered 1,500 mobile hotspots for those who also lacked reliable internet access. There were some delays since so many other districts were trying to do the same thing simultaneously, but they were eventually able to get students what they needed.” However, this effort has not been adopted nationwide.


How Are Families Affected by the Homework Gap?


The situation is especially dire considering that most of the workforce deemed as “essential workers” are Black and Latino adults, not afforded the option to work from home. EdSurge points out that “this means more Black and Latino students are trying to get their schoolwork done in homes without parents present during the day to help supervise or hold their kids accountable.”

The fear is that this situation will create a learning gap with repercussions reaching beyond the previously mentioned “homework gap.” It can affect these students’ results in the areas of standardized testing, their access to college resources and applications, and the fair representation of people of color and other minorities in the next generation’s workforce. The economic gap will become wider, which in turn will further widen the digital divide.

There are no easy solutions to these problems, and only time will tell how badly students were affected by the lockdown during COVID-19. Decisions made in the next few years will be critical to closing learning gaps and regression. Short-term solutions may serve as band-aids for a spell. But one thing is clear: Our current and future K-12 students are in dire need of long-lasting solutions to bridge the growing digital divide.

If you are interested in shaping the digital future for our students, consider the options for entering graduate school.

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s online graduate programs in education.


The New York Times: Figuring Out Home Schooling in the Age of Coronavirus

Pew Research Center: Nearly One-in-Five Teens Can’t Always Finish Their Homework Because of the Digital Divide

EdSurge: COVID-19 Has Widened the ‘Homework Gap’ into a Full-Fledged Learning Gap

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