Interactive: As schools turn to remote learning amid COVID-19 outbreak, students face digital divide

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As coronavirus spreads in our area, a growing number of schools are closing and moving to online remote learning.

However, that will be a challenge for some students on the wrong side of the digital divide.

This is critical information for educators and families.

Alana Finney goes to school in Philadelphia and loves hands-on learning, so she has concerns as more and more schools close down due to coronavirus.

"It would be a bit more of a struggle to understand part of the curriculum," said Finney, who is a high school sophomore.

Finney has a big brother in college, snd if both of their schools close their doors she is also worried about having to share her laptop.

"Normally I have to wait for him to get done his assignments in order for me to start my assignments," she said. "I'd get stuff done late and that would affect my grade."

The success of remote online learning depends on a number of factors, including the availability of devices and high-speed internet access that allows video streaming.

The digital divide refers to the difference in access to that technology. Youngmoo Kim of Drexel University said it is a very real concern in our area.

"A lot of families don't have computers at home. A lot of families in Philadelphia don't have high speed, broadband internet access to the home. Students who have computers at home who have high speed internet access, they're going to get a much better experience than students without who may get no access to the content or instruction," said Kim, who is the director of the Drexel ExCITE Center.

Using the maps created by Action News you can roll over it or click on a school district and see the percentage of households without computers and without high-speed internet access.

Pennsylvania:


New Jersey:


Delaware:


The darker the area, the fewer households have high-speed internet access.

In the Trenton public school district, 13.1 percent don't have computers while 44.2 percent don't have high speed internet.

Compare that to Lower Merion where only 2.6 percent don't have computers and only 8.9 percent don't have high speed internet.

In the Philadelphia school district, 10.9 percent don't have computers 31 percent don't have high-speed internet.
"I mean, everybody has a cell plan. If you're streaming videos or classes constantly you're going to rack up data usage pretty quickly," said Kim. "For people without, you know, a flat fee internet service, that's going to impact them financially."

Not only does cellular-based internet cost more, it's a less useable experience overall, putting those students at a disadvantage.

"I think teachers will need to be very, very sensitive and cognizant to what they are asking students to do," said Kim.

Kim also hopes families use this information to advocate for what their children will need if they do have to learn from home raising the red flag about the challenges that might arise in their households.
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