Ever since I was young, I have noticed that the Bay Area was steeped with people from various ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. I was surrounded with peers who lived in a different environment than I, who often had to face difficult challenges. Although I did hear about the digital divide, I did not realize how large in magnitude the issue was until I started to teach piano to underprivileged kids in the Bay Area. I joined Little Mozart, a program that my piano teacher initiated in which all of her graduated piano students would have the chance to teach kids who did not have the expenses to pay for piano lessons. This program provides free lessons and pianos, allowing kids a chance to learn more about music without the fear of money getting in the way. As I delved further into teaching piano, I discovered more of the difficulties my students had to face on a daily basis. Some of them came in late due to their parents’ work, and most could not understand English well. Through teaching piano, I realized how socioeconomic status reduces the opportunities for kids to learn and to grow to their full potential. It stood out to me that our community should provide more to help these children.
COVID-19 changes our lives tremendously and sets a new normal. Recognizing I could do more for our community, I co-founded a not for profit organization called LiveWell Care Packages. We provide free care packages for those in need during this difficult time, especially to low-income families. Through learning about how much these families enjoyed our care packages, it has led me to want to help underprivileged kids in a greater capacity, which guided me to BridgingTech. Working as a Bridging Tech High School Ambassador has given me the opportunity to supply children with tech devices during this pandemic. Being able to promote equitable learning for disadvantaged children in the Bay Area by improving tech access is a major step to bridging the digital divide in America. I am proud to be part of a major initiative to ensure that all students have the resources to engage in online learning.
Recent nationwide developments have forced a spotlight onto America’s inequities, allowing for the birth of new systems, braver generations, and a more accepting space for those most marginalized. Despite the large strides taken, by no means is our work completed - systemic racism perpetuates our society everywhere from generational poverty cycles to normalized microaggressions.
Bridging Tech strives to rectify an inequality exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic; a disparity that has always been inherent but is now unmistakable in an age of social distancing and online learning. This problem, coined as the digital divide, is the difference between families who have internet connection and access to tech devices, and those who do not. Students in the latter families suffer as a result, and the rift spawned from this divide, the homework gap, is born.
A lack of means to access the internet limits opportunities to learn, making it difficult to complete assignments, obtain necessary information, and be academically successful. Personally, I can attest to the technological advantages privileged students are afforded over other low-income teens, as I currently attend a private high school in which every student has an iPad on them at all times. Small things that seem unremarkable to me such as a designated IT desk or homework assigned over Zoom calls are impossible in public schools that have to account for their students who may be left behind.
Most alarming are the cyclical effects of these disadvantages, in which minority kids and teens without devices score lower on standardized tests than their wealthier peers and suffer from lower graduation rates. When these students never received the opportunity to succeed in the first place, it becomes less and less likely that the children and grandchildren in these low income families will get better chances than those who came before them. It’s time for a new age of tech in the Bay - one where a student, regardless of their family’s financial status, can achieve what any other kid growing up in Silicon Valley can.
Growing up in San Jose, I was surrounded by the most diverse set of peers - all shaped by different experiences as well as varying socioeconomic and racial identities. I saw my privileged friends agonizing over what shoes they’d buy at the mall later, but I also witnessed some of my classmates deal with familial and financial hardships that seemed alien to me. This divide in my classmates and friends helped me realize that I was at the center of an acute economic and digital divide.
Events such as the recent pandemic and social justice movements have only emphasized the injustices and inequities in our current world. They have exposed the digital divide - the gap between people who have constant access to devices and a remote Internet connection and the people who don’t. This gap is often defined by varying social classes as well as racial and cultural identity.
Attending school in the Bay Area has put me in a unique position where I’ve been able to observe how cutting edge technology has greatly improved life, but disadvantaged others who don’t have the financial means to afford these devices. It’s also helped me realize that we have both the financial and material means to close this divide that prevents some from receiving an equal and fair chance at an education. Bridging this gap will break cycles of poverty, often connected to racial or religious backgrounds, and help provide all with the opportunity to learn.
Bridging Tech takes a direct approach at closing this gap, by using donations to provide children in homeless shelters with suitable learning devices - especially helpful as most learning has recently moved online. Every day, the inequity caused by the digital divide deepens, and we must work to close this gap and supply all with their fundamental right to an education.