The digital divide is setting a group of NYC kids back. Photo: Pexels

The city must act immediately to prevent a large group of New York City kids from falling through the cracks due to lack of access to education, analysts say.

The advent of remote learning due to the pandemic has laid bare the inequities of the digital divide, particularly in some areas of Brooklyn, with many kids unable to log on and learn because of a lack of access to Internet and devices.

A new report released by the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York revealed that one in five children on average each day had no interaction whatsoever with school in the spring in certain demographics.

Photo: CCC

Advocates are trying to move away from the idea of losing a generation of children to this digital divide, but it’s what many are afraid of at the moment, Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York policy and advocacy associate Daryl Hornick-Becker told BK Reader.

“We can acknowledge it as a risk but not as an inevitability. We have to do everything we need to do right now to not let kids slip between the cracks.”

When aggregated by school district, student interactions with school during the spring were lowest in Mott Haven, Brownsville, Central Harlem, East New York and Bedford Stuyvesant where, on average, at least 20% of students each day had no interactions with remote learning, the report says.

Bed-Stuy is also among the communities with the highest estimates of children without internet, with more than a quarter of children in households with no internet access including broadband, dialup, and cellular, according to 2019 ACS estimates.

The city promised to have working WiFi in all shelters by the summer of 2021. Photo: Pexels.

Similar statistics were seen for students with disabilities, English Language Learners and particularly for students in temporary housing, who have faced patchy or non-existent WiFi in shelters, and have struggled connect via their DOE-issued iPads.

In response to reports on the lack of access to remote schooling for kids in shelters, the city said in October it would get Wi-Fi up and running in 27 “priority” shelters by the winter, and install Wi-Fi in the rest of the 240 family and domestic violence shelters by summer 2021.

But advocates slammed the plan for being too slow.

On Tuesday, The Legal Aid Society and Milbank LLP announced they were suing the city for its failure to provide students who live in city shelters access to reliable internet service so they could attend school remotely.

The city is being sued for not closing the digital divide fast enough. Photo: Pexels.

Homeless children’s lack of access to the virtual classroom has been on the city’s radar since the onset of the pandemic, but the children were hardly better off today than they were in March, Milbank LLP litigation partner Grant R. Mainland said.

“The time for action is now, before the 2020-2021 school year is written off altogether for the city’s most vulnerable children.”

Hornick-Becker said the digital divide was only compounding the inequities we saw before the pandemic, and said we owed these students an “educational debt.”

Kids who previously faced challenges like home and income insecurity are now also struggling with parents losing jobs, family members losing their lives, and not being able to access their schoolwork.

“We know [the city] has made a commitment to expand WiFi in shelters, but it needs to happen sooner rather than later, and hotspots need to happen now and on bigger scales in order to be effective.”

He said students also needed access to tech support and support in different languages.


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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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