Closing The Homework Gap will take a Village

Every year, local communities hold several Back-to-School Supply Drives to prepare students to go back to school.  We see how communities come together to collect school materials like notebooks, crayons, folder, pencils, and backpacks. We praise these great effort. But, it turns out that we have another major challenge affecting academic preparedness–the “Homework Gap.”

Findings from agency experts at the Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) revealed that students are falling into the homework gap and unable to do basic schoolwork.

The Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) is an independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress.  They are the primary authority for communications law, regulation and technological innovation. The agency is directed by five commissioners who are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

This month, the FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel spoke at a LATISM forum held at the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs and discussed the alarming findings of the homework gap and possible solutions to help close the divide and advance education.

Rosenworcel stated that 7 out of 10 teachers assign homework that requires internet access for research and completion, but 5 million households with school-aged children do not subscribe to broadband technology at home. She defined the overlap as the “homework gap.”

These findings were eye-opening.

School supplies are no longer the only challenge affecting students from low income households. Regular access to home internet and computers have become an absolute necessity. Students without proper access miss out on the opportunity to develop the digital skills necessary to compete for technology charged careers.

The “homework gap” diminishes opportunities for students to enter the workforce prepared with adequate digital skills.  For example, here in Florida, there are over 269,000 STEM related job opportunities in the market. But students without broadband access will likely struggle to compete for these jobs.

Rosenworcel referred to findings from a recent study from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, Family Online Institute, My College Options. The findings revealed valuable information about student’s access to technology and the issues faced by  low income students.

The study randomly invited over 150, 000 students to survey the impact modern technology has on their lives, safety and educational progress. The research and report presented were based on answers from over 3,000 students that chose to participate.

According to the report, almost half of students, at some point, reported that they were not able to complete homework without computer or internet. Students expressed feeling limited by not having access to broadband after school hours. They also felt frustrated for the negative impact on their grades due to the lack of broadband access.

Students who do not have internet or computers at home often use library resources to complete their homework.

Other students reported using their smart phones to access internet–Hispanics and African American top the list with 87 percent of high school students.  While many students have cell phone access, using a cell phone is not the most favorable for more complex assignments –  writing papers and some mathematical exercises.

The “homework gap” represents cultural and financial division that creates barriers to opportunities.

Some educational advocates have proposed the use of mobile units in low income communities to provide internet and computer access. Others suggest providing students with internet access cards to activate at home to secure broadband access.

Most recently, the FCC moved to include broadband in their “Lifeline” program. The Lifeline Program was created in the 80’s to ensure voice line access to underserved homes.

The program was created pre- internet age and the FCC’s recent vote is a move in the right direction to update the program to the  “broadband era.”

The issue won’t be solved overnight. It needs the attention of Federal, State, and Local government, educational institutions, nonprofits, and the private sector.  We all need to be committed to providing every child with the opportunity to compete in the workforce. We must meet students’ need for modern communication access across the nation so they can experience the opportunities of our digital economy  and make a difference in their communities.

By Yamira Lee Johnson, Business Nature, Inc.

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