Wisconsin’s leap to remote education has exposed a digital divide, the state's education leaders say.
It’s a national issue and the COVID-19 emergency measures are raising awareness of the need to improve connectivity for all.
"I think the real challenge is having families able to connect to the technologies and where school districts are in terms of providing technology for each one of their students, and that's bringing out the inequities in a lot of districts,” Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor said in a WisEye Newsmakers interview March 31.
She highlighted the fact that a “Chromebook gap” exists where some school districts can provide virtual learning and some can only provide paper learning packets.
An annual survey administered by the DPI to gauge the current level of access to technology suggests as many as 25% of Wisconsin families aren’t connected. Some are rural homes without access to reliable internet; others are economically-disadvantaged families who do not have the means to access the internet in their homes. Some homes lack computers or Chromebooks. Some have to ration time so everyone gets a turn.
Northwestern Middle School math teacher Jaimi Teal said the biggest challenge of at-home learning has been juggling digital class times with her three children and husband, also a teacher.
Every district is doing the best it can to provide some type of continuity of learning for its students, Stanford Taylor said.
Many Douglas County teachers are pushing out content on platforms like Class Dojo and email, which can be accessed with a smartphone, in conjunction with materials that are sent home. Administrators have staff working to get families connected.
Superior Public Library has boosted its Wi-Fi signal so families and individuals can access it in the parking lot. That’s being done by schools and libraries throughout the state, according to DPI. The department hopes to offer an interactive map through its website to help families find those connections.
The Wisconsin Public Service Commission has also put together an online resource listing internet providers offering free connectivity offers for families in response to the health emergency.