COVID-19 reveals the digital divide

Photo courtesy Londono

The pandemic known as COVID-19 has upended the lives of millions in a variety of ways, but one overlooked consequence of the coronavirus has been the reveal of the digital divide between certain students when it comes to their academic success.

Florida A&M University, like many other institutions, opted to move the remainder of its spring semester online to aid in preventing the spread of the virus. While the switch to online classes for the rest of the semester was a necessary precaution to take, it has done a disservice to a portion of the student population, specifically those without proper access to the materials needed to complete these online courses, such as WiFi, laptops, and the proper instruction.

Our faculty are doing their best and they’re not the ones at fault here, but the fact of the matter is that we as students attend this institution to learn and receive instruction from real professors in real classrooms, and the sudden shift to digital media, such as Zoom, has truly thrown students and faculty alike for a loop.

Students away from campus now have to deal with having a consistent internet connection, keeping up with due dates even if they’re possibly now in different time zones, and essentially gambling their grades for the spring semester on online tutorials of a class that was not meant to be taught outside of a classroom.

For professors, it’s not easy either. For many, being suddenly forced to change the remainder of their planned curriculum to be taught digitally has already led to growing pains when it comes to assignments, study guides and what would have been our final exams coming up in the next few weeks.

FAMU is doing what they can to ameliorate the situation by offering free internet access for those still on campus and distributing laptops to equip faculty for online instruction, but for some, it’s simply not enough.

According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 25% of lower-income students don’t have access to the materials they need to complete online courses, such as a computer or a stable internet connection. In addition, 21% of Black students rely on school or public internet to get school work done, as opposed to 11% and 9% of white and Hispanic students, respectively.

The fact of the matter is that this is a real issue, one that has been an issue for quite some time but now has the depth of it been shown. Student success should be decided by the amount of effort and energy someone puts into their work, but unfortunately, that is not the case.

Uncontrollable factors such as coming from a low-income household that can’t afford a computer or access to good WiFi come into play, and put even the most committed students at risk of failing their courses.

No one wanted this pandemic to happen, and it has uprooted student and faculty lives in many ways. It has also managed to enlighten people on how online schooling can be detrimental for those without the proper resources.

When this pandemic subsides, we should not forget how severe of a problem this is. We should if anything be motivated to take action, take steps towards building a curriculum designed specifically for online instruction, and qualified professors ready and willing to give said instruction. What should we do about the students who don’t have basic internet access, to begin with? I’d be lying if I said I had all the answers, but we’ve got plenty of time now while we’re in quarantine to think of solutions for this problem.