School districts across the United States are considering whether or not to restart in-person school classes, weighing in the factors and the consequences that may hold for their students, teachers, and families. They are challenged by many fundamental uncertainties, including that no nation has tried to send kids back to school with COVID-19 raging at levels such as America's, and the lack of research and limited understanding about the transmission in classrooms.
Recently, the World Health Organization concluded that the COVID-19 virus is airborne in crowded and indoor spaces with poor ventilation. This is concerning for many as this fits the description of American schools, thus pertaining to the worry of students going back to school in person. However, there is an enormous pressure that is brought upon students to return to schools from President Donald Trump.
An important variable comes into play when deciding whether schools should reopen or not: how widespread the virus is in the community overall. This will affect how many people potentially bring it into school and the amount of people who are likely to get sick with the virus. Due to the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and the uncertainty of the future, most school districts have decided to do full distance-learning, and some are planning to do a hybrid between online and in-person learning. Physical distancing and wearing masks in schools can make a huge difference in limiting the spread of COVID-19.
Since most schools are planning to do some sort of distance learning, this poses a greater need for children to get the technology they need during this time of physical and emotional distress. Many low-income families do not have the expenses to buy a device, which makes it extremely hard for children to get the necessary learning experience. This lack of technology not only affects students’ inability to complete school assignments, but it also leads them to become unprepared to apply for jobs and other applications. To help bridge the digital divide and to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to acquire academic success, Bridging Tech is able to connect those who do not have technology access by supplying them digital devices. Through working together and helping children to gain a better educational learning, this creates more equity for all students to have access to a virtuous education.
Black Lives Matter, which involves countless petitions, a coalition of social media efforts, and an estimated 15 million to 26 million protestors, has become one of the largest movements in American history. Activists continue to pioneer for long-overdue civil rights through their respective contributions- one pivotal way being the creation of nonprofits concentrated on racial inequality or the growth of black communities. While these organizations provide a welcome service, it is important to also recognize nonprofits that aided black lives long before the movement made headlines. One example is BlackGirlsCode, which has focused on introducing girls of color to computer coding and STEM since 2011. The organization plans to “provide African-American youth with the skills to occupy some of the 1.4 million computing job openings expected to be available in the U.S. by 2020, and to train 1 million girls by 2040.” This ambitious endeavor not only addresses a severe lack of diversity in technology-based jobs, but allows for the closing of gender gaps in typically male-dominated roles.
Additionally, BlackGirlsCode acknowledges the digital divide and its harmful cyclical effects on communities of color, especially in locations across America where technology is a necessity. In order for the organization to build digital literacy, they must have devices to begin with. Their website writes that “sadly, San Francisco’s digital divide falls along the same racial and social fault lines that characterize so many of society’s issues. White households are twice as likely to have home Internet access as African American houses.” In a diversified space such as San Francisco, disadvantaged, often minority children, must have devices and the bandwidth to use that technology in order to succeed. Without the same opportunities as their peers and classmates, social and economic mobility becomes close to impossible. When nonprofits such as The Bridging Tech Charitable Fund supply devices, while BlackGirlsCode teaches minority children how to use said technology, communities are elevated through the efforts of society as a whole.
As the tech industry astronomically grows in the Bay Area, it is no surprise that laptops and tablets have become an integral part of classroom learning. In America alone, the educational computer-and-software market has grown to reach a $21 billion evaluation, and Silicon Valley took advantage of this surge.
Tech executives saw the monetary advantages of incorporating devices in everyday learning and worked to make it a reality. After contacting school officials and decision-makers, tech entrepreneurs have created a way of schooling, with technology being vital for learning. Companies such as HP and Microsoft have made hundred-million-dollar deals with school districts in an effort to incorporate their products in everyday schooling. Laptops and tablets are used in math and reading lessons, and homework often takes the form of online quizzes or assignments.
This sudden incline in tech-based learning has opened up a world of inequity and disadvantage for children not already associated with tech. With other states and countries following California’s tech-based learning example, children without the means or knowledge to learn virtually are the most adversely affected. This new schooling system fails to acknowledge children without suitable learning devices at home, or parents without the digital literacy skill to help their children complete assignments.
Having a stable internet connection and home life have become a prerequisite for learning, and while these new policies benefit the majority, often the children who cannot adhere to new learning standards are left behind. The chances of disadvantaged students rising out of such school systems is low, and they cannot be expected to achieve their goals when placed in an environment that sets them up to fail. Providing students with the supplies and opportunities for a fair learning experience begins with bridging the digital divide. We must work to create a new age of technology and learning where the convenience and benefits of digital learning helps all, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances.
The new commonly voiced mantra “stay at home” in light of the ongoing pandemic has a very different meaning for the population of about 1.4 million Americans who currently use transitional housing or homeless shelters. While the amount of people in this group fluctuates due to unemployment rates at an all time high, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has proposed a community based approach dependent on local government leadership, law enforcement, healthcare service providers, etc. to handle the spread of coronavirus within shelters. The CDC maintains that it is imperative to keep existing housing open, with additional preventative and responsive measures in place; however, the real difficulty lies in the systematic approach taken when concerning COVID-19 testing.
Maxmen of Nature writes that tests are rare, so a significant portion of a shelter remains untested until after an outbreak has occurred. Shelters can only afford to test those with symptoms due to their limited resources, despite the reality that most people carrying the virus tend to be asymptomatic. This unfortunately ensures that outbreaks spread unnoticed, rendering these communal houses an epicenter of the virus. For example, “by the time a person from a shelter in San Francisco had been diagnosed with COVID-19 in April, more than 90 other residents and 10 people who worked there were already infected.”
The failure to protect infected individuals in a highly populated, close-quarters setting results in transmission rates increasing rapidly, with the entire nation falling further into more and more cases. Though certain cities have begun to provide accommodations to their homeless populations through hotel rooms, a majority still reside in tents or large housing arrangements. Maxmen corroborates that “without further interventions, more than 21,300 homeless people in the United States will need to be hospitalized for COVID-19.” It is clear that policymakers need to keep these communities in mind when taking action to support the nation as a whole.
While many of us are experiencing the restrictive quarantine and social distancing measures that this pandemic has caused, the virus’s effect on the homeless population has been much more dire. Specifically in San Francisco, center to the largest homeless population in the country, COVID-19 has caused mass displacement and inconvenience for this community.
San Francisco has long been home to some of the most low-income and underprivileged groups in America. However, the recent pandemic has forced the city to address the lack of sanitation, resources, and living spaces for these groups. In the city’s efforts to adjust to recent social distancing and sanitation orders, they have begun opening hotel rooms to homeless people and implementing quarantine measures in select shelters. While these steps have been effective, it has also barred many homeless individuals from living in quarantining shelters and displaced people that aren’t “high risk.”
Roger Moussa, who was recently kicked out of the shelter he was living in, said of the situation, “I feel completely helpless. I have nowhere to go, and every other night I get robbed.” Several citizens have also voiced their concern for the homeless during this time, and how this improper treatment of homeless citizens ends up generating fear in other citizens: “We are only as safe and as protected as our most vulnerable residents.”
The recent outbreak has also affected homeless youth, who depend on schools for not only education, but also for food, hygiene, and health care. The US Interagency Council on Homelessness has made a statement offering further educational support for afflicted youth. They suggest that schools and communities coordinate an effort to provide devices to any who may not have the facilities to learn remotely. However, this response is inadequate and does not address the possibility of a lack of school resources or funding to equip children with such devices.
The Bridging Tech Charitable Fund’s mission is to provide sustainable learning devices for children in these situations. Providing them with devices may prevent cyclical poverty and the lack of education due to systemic causes that is common in these areas. It enables children to learn, regardless of their living situation or socioeconomic status, and it creates a world where education is accessible to all.
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.