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The Homework Gap: The “Cruelest Part of the Digital Divide”

In the recent release of the Consortium of School Networking’s 2016 Annual Infrastructure Survey, it is clear that US schools are increasingly connected to the Internet at broadband speeds.  A whopping 68% of US school districts have reached the targets set out in the Obama administration’s ConnectEd initiative, as compared to the meager 19% of school districts connected when the initiative was first announced in 2013.

While this increase in the connectivity of schools is indeed something to celebrate, insofar as it ameliorates the inequalities between more affluent school districts and those with more limited budgets, it does little to address the inequalities existing between students after the dismissal bell rings: the fact is that while many students go home to do their homework, write essays, and apply for colleges with the assistance of a fast Internet connection, others come from home to no Internet at all. To keep up, these students must resort to coming early or staying after school (not possible for those relying on the schoolbus), or working from cafes and even fast food restaurants to accomplish the same tasks.  This is the so-called “Homework Gap,” which FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has aptly named the “cruelest part of the digital divide.”  As Derek Rhoads, of the Beaufort County School District, put it, connectivity outside of the school can be understood as “a human rights issue.”

Despite the efforts of the Obama administration’s efforts to bridge this digital divide through the Connect Home initiative to subsidize Internet connections for needy households in HUD-assisted housing, the Internet remains out of reach for many students, particularly in lower income and rural areas. At the 2016 International Society for Technology Education (ISTE) conference, there seems to have been a consensus that the issue cannot be addressed by school districts alone, and various alternative strategies were discussed for bridging this gap. Yet, while the caching of homework assignments onto thumb drives may allow students to access homework offline, and a Wi-Fi equipped schoolbus may provide access to students in transit, these solutions are a poor or temporary substitute for Internet connectivity.

A superior solution would enable students to access and explore a universe of curated educational content without the need for an Internet connection at all. This is precisely where PortableCloud stands poised to bridge the Homework Gap.

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