Campus officials closed our school on March 18 to halt the spread of COVID-19, which turned our beloved home into a 188-acre storage unit. But as the raccoons and ibis take over our campus, and our academic lives are in flux, one thing remains the same: our reliance on the internet.
If you’re like me, you’re sitting in someone else’s home, trying to keep up with classes, but mostly scrolling social media to get updates on the state of our country. Many students don't have that luxury.
A 2019 article from the Associated Press said 3 million American students do not have home internet. Ironically, Zoom classes and Google Hangouts became the default teaching method for closed high schools and colleges.
Some Eckerd professors collected surveys to make sure students had internet access prior to evacuation, which helped them judge how to alter their syllabi. Others did not, which left any potentially offline students lagging behind.
Educators cannot assume their students have reliable connection at home, and they must be flexible enough to work one-on-one with offline students. Otherwise, the digital divide will leave these students disproportionately struggling to maintain grades, scholarships and class standing,
But the digital divide is not limited to our schools or our country.
According to a 2016 report from the United Nation Human Rights Council, over half of the global population is not connected to the internet, and these populations are disproportionately “poor, rural, older and female.”
This may be surprising to the average American, like the stat about 3 million college students lacking internet, but the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) says 19 million Americans also lack broadband internet access.
Broadband internet service is the fancy name for high-speed internet. It’s the format the FCC says most people with unreliable internet lack. Providing this service to all Americans would ensure people’s ability to keep up with news, government alerts and interact with others for work or pleasure.
Similar to the Freedom of Information Act, which gives United States citizens the right to obtain federal records, our country should ensure everyone has reliable access to online information. This right is especially important as we digitize our classrooms and workspaces in the age of social distancing.
Online news, press releases and public safety alerts show how quickly our system is transitioning to online formats, and the internet has proven to be especially important for receiving up-to-date information on the 2019 coronavirus outbreak.
A few weeks ago the Center for Disease Control (CDC) told people not to wear face masks, but last week they updated their website and reversed this policy. Quick updates to critical information like this show how necessary it is for Americans to access the internet; it can save lives.
The economic advantage of high-speed internet is also important to acknowledge. Whether it’s using online job search engines, working from home or simply doing research, the internet has become the central access point for a majority of careers; without it, people lack the resources to fairly work, learn or contribute to society.
When Eckerd students see their peers struggling to stay connected, or have trouble themselves, it should prompt us to advocate for universal internet access. Call on your teachers who failed to confirm their students’ access, and start this conversation in the classroom.
The sooner we acknowledge this divide, the sooner we can change legislation, because a missing homework assignment for us represents missing information and opportunities for rural Americans and offline populations around the globe.
The United Nations declared internet access a human right in 2016.