COVID-19 does not care about inequity, and neither does society. The COVID-19 outbreak is altering our approach to education. Students are quarantining at home and undergoing virtual instruction through Zoom, all while universities prepare for future decisions, including but not limited to: refunding students for university housing, organizing online summer sessions, easing college admissions requirements, adjusting grading policies and ultimately reopening in-person classes in the fall. Clearly, remote learning has introduced changes to education policy. Meanwhile, the pandemic has shed light on gaping inequities in society: disparities influenced by a shortage in medical equipment, inadequate employment compensation and inequalities in financial aid. And yet there remains one inconsistency that society consistently disregards: the digital divide.
With uncertainty regarding student access to technological resources and support from home, schools are extending deadlines, discussing pass/no pass alternatives and working to equalize opportunity for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Educators and students are anxious about computer access, wifi and printers in order to watch lectures and print out exams. This panic is understandable, although a lack of technology has presided for decades. The gap in technological access is pervasive. And now, as universities are apprehending critical decisions such as grading and educational requirements, it is crucial they recognize the disparities in Internet access. Unfortunately it took a global pandemic, national school closure and imminent danger for technological gaps to become apparent.
As midterms approach, multiple students in my classes have sought guidance from public forums like Campuswire on how they should take exams and complete worksheet assignments if they do not have printers. Socioeconomic deficit is then permeated. What if you can not afford to buy a printer? What if you can not afford Internet connection? What if you can not afford your own computer? Some students must share a computer with their siblings in order to access their online classes and receive the limited education we now face. Some students do not even have a computer, so they tune into Zoom lectures through their phones. Each student encounters their own socio-economic challenges, and indeed, public universities like UCLA provide essential resources to alleviate these inequities on campus such as libraries, computer labs and free printing services. Because of this pandemic, student access to digital resources has plummeted. But despite this prevalence, well-off students are evasive to their less-technologically endowed peers and students. These inequities have been normalized. For thousands of students, online schooling is no trouble. But to be destitute under these conditions, is not only a burden, but a disadvantage towards one’s education.
Ultimately, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed America’s digital divide. Student access to digital resources outside of the classroom is unequal. This inequality remains a looming obstacle to socioeconomically disadvantaged students. Upon returning to campus, I humbly request you to keep this inequity in mind. A push for additional funding in libraries is vital. Advise your fellow peers about free printing and computer lab resources. Begin to think outside the box. How can you help equalize technological access to all students? A lack of technology should not impede a student’s ability to learn. Certainly, we can make our schools viable to student inequities during these unprecedented times, and beyond.