December marked the midway point of the $189.5 billion in federal COVID-19 emergency funding provided through ESSER. Halfway to the ESSER spending deadline, many are looking at how the remaining funds are being used and if schools are on track with lasting, substantive applications.
One area of interest is educational technology.
A recent EdWeek special report cited survey results showing that “an overwhelming majority of educators say the pandemic prompted new and greater use of technology in their classrooms.” As many schools used monies from the COVID-19 funding acts to both implement and upgrade the use of EdTech, this halfway point is a good time to consider if the progress made will continue going forward.
One question to consider is if school districts have included long-term planning so that EdTech will continue to be funded in the future, including updates to devices and software. Along with the continued implementation of EdTech in the classroom comes regular training for teachers on how best to use that technology. As we saw during the pandemic, teachers are resilient and, when put in a position of having to figure something out as they go, they will do so admirably. However, a better scenario for teachers is to provide the training and support on the front end so that their time and energy can be spent on implementation of best practices.
We saw definite gains surrounding equity in education during the pandemic, specifically in regards to access to technology and reliable internet.
When learning pivoted to an online format in the spring of 2020, the gaps in access to technology and the internet became glaring reminders of the digital divide. Even as most students and teachers returned to the classroom for in-person instruction in August of 2020, millions were still without reliable internet access. However, the COVID-19 Stimulus Package and the Consolidated Appropriations Act both helped boost the availability of broadband internet across the nation. At the beginning of 2022, the United States’ internet penetration rate stood at 92.0% of the total population, according to Datareportal. Statista research projects this percentage to increase to 95% by 2027.
These gains are promising. Access to technology and the reliable internet necessary to use that technology are critical elements of today’s education landscape.
Having reliable access to the internet also means access to intervention and support for students who are struggling to regain lost ground academically. For example, as a research-based intervention, online tutoring can not only help students who need extra instruction on specific topics, but it can also allow students to review concepts to build a knowledge base for future learning. When students are able to work with a professional tutor, such as those at Skooli, whenever they need support, they have a true 1:1 learning experience.
But there is growing concern about educational equity: “In an EdWeek Research Center survey conducted this year, 65 percent of teachers and administrators said they were more concerned now than prior to the pandemic about closing academic opportunity gaps among different groups of students.”
EdTech can play an important role in closing this gap when implemented correctly. However, “greater access to Chromebooks or mobile hotspots doesn’t necessarily lead to greater equity,” Justin Reich, the Director of the Teaching Systems Lab at MIT told EdWeek. The report goes on to say that “a robust body of research suggests more technology actually tends to make long standing inequities worse. Call it the ‘digital usage divide.’”
With more and more schools making use of digital learning tools, it’s important for students to be able to access these resources both at school and at home. Technology and reliable internet access can help close the gap rather than create greater division if all students have access and are taught how to make the best use of that technology.