Subsidizing The Digital Divide

Yesterday I attended EdubloggerCon, an unconference organized by Steve Hargadon. In the sessions on Best Practices in 1:1 Laptops and Bringing the Family along for Learning, the conversation centered at times around the Digital Divide.  One of the things I love about the ISTE conference is hearing all of the innovative and exciting projects and initiatives that people are doing in their classrooms, schools and districts. However, I live in a different world than many. Teaching in an enormous, urban district that is controlled by the State (we have no School Board) often makes my perspective and situation unique and different from others. 

When the topic of taking laptops home came up, there were mixed opinions. I tweeted out the question of whether students should take laptops home and got a variety of responses. One person brought up insurance concerns. Another said that students should be buying their devices. In the face to face conversation there was a consensus that students should be taking devices home in order for them to be effective learning devices.

Here is where the conversation got really engaging.

A few people were commenting that kids were going to be bringing their own devices into school anyway because they owned them already. I commented that my students don't even have smartphones (most of them use pre-paid phones), and most of them don't have the financial ability to buy a laptop.  Then I brought up the idea of a 'rent to own' system where students make payments toward their laptop until they own it.  To me, this seemed like the perfect solution. If students know that they will one day own the computer, they are more likely to take care of it and more likely to take the time to learn the ins and outs of how it works. This also eliminates the need for districts and schools to spend large amounts of money on insurance.

It was the perfect solution until I was sitting in the Family session and the point was made that if a child attends public school and is required to have a laptop, that it would have to be provided to them by the school. Then, one of the session participants offered the solution of using Title I money to subsidize the laptops. We already have 100% of our students who receive free breakfast lunch, so why not use that distinction to divert Title I funds toward subsidizing the devices for those students who qualify for free/reduced lunch. In my school, all of the devices would most likely be subsidized, but in schools with a more diverse socio-economic population, this would help decide who would buy a laptop straight out and who would be subsidized.

All of this got me thinking: are laptops the new pencil, notebook, paper, pencil sharpener, etc...that parents are required to send their child to school with?

This would be a huge shift in thinking and practice for public schools, and I'm even sure it would work, but the Digital Divide is real and the need for access is real. 

How do we ensure that technology literacy isn't a privilege for those who can afford it?


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