There was a time when people felt the internet was another world, but now people realize it’s a tool we use in this world. – Tim Berners-Lee
If we’ve learned only one thing from the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope we’ve learned that every child (nay, every person) needs reliable, high-speed, always-available access to the Internet.
This should be non-negotiable, even though students (and their families) in many areas of the United States struggle to have even the most basic access with students of color disproportionately impacted by a lack of access. They have not had access to a lifeline that, for many, has been the driving force in preserving sanity and personal connections during a time in which our physical connections have come with deadly consequences.
Connection shouldn’t be an issue but, for many, it still is. But even when we do have connection, we still lack in leveraging that connection to make the biggest impact.
Equal vs. Equitable
No, equal does not mean equitable. Although the two words are related, they have drastically different meanings. Equal means everyone gets the same thing. This is the access issue. This is the starting point.
Until we can be sure that every person everywhere in the United States (let’s just go ahead and say it: until every person in the world) has access to the exact same quality of internet connection, we will have areas of our country that are at a distinct disadvantage.
Our first step in improving access is to finally agree to this simple premise: internet is infrastructure. As sure as our highways and electrical grid not only connect each of us together but provide a network of services that other services rely upon, the internet is no less an integral part of modern society.
While equal means everyone gets the same, equitable means that everyone gets what they need to be successful. Solutions are found that ensure the outcomes are the best for everyone involved. Yes, that means that some people get more assistance. And some folks are challenged. No two people are alike and no two people have the same needs.
Cookie cutters only work when you’re making cookies.
Different Students, Different Needs
But it’s not just about making sure that every student has access. The next step in providing equity is ensuring that each student has the tools and support that they need to be successful
We try to do this in classrooms by providing modifications to lessons and coursework, whether they be in the form of extra supports for struggling students or as extensions for students who excel in certain areas.
(And yes, a student may need supports in one area and extensions in another. This is why every student needs a personalized learning plan.)
When we can provide every student with exactly what they need to be successful in any learning situation, including remote/virtual, we will see greater success.
It will also help when we stop focusing on the wrong goals in education but that’s a different article topic.
What we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic is a group of students who have been able to excel in a remote learning environment. No, it’s right for every student, not even for a large percentage of students. But it is right for some.
Just as in-person instruction is absolutely the right environment for many students. And in between those two “extremes” of the learning continuum, there are likely hundreds of other hybrids of online and in-person learning to explore.
And there’s no better time to explore them than right now. We’ve been given an opportunity with this pandemic to completely rethink education. Or we can race back to where we were pre-pandemic.
The choice is up to us. It’s time to make education equitable for every student. Every. Last. One.