COVID-19 accelerated the global shift to a digital economy and society, as well as the resulting transition of essential components of everyday life, such as education, employment, and healthcare, to online systems. Public investment into digital equity can enable all learners to fully participate in this shared future, characterized by increases in healthcare options, workforce opportunities, and more.92 While some progress has been made toward digital equity in recent years, further efforts are necessary to ensure learners of all backgrounds, identities, and experiences have access to reliable, high-speed broadband and technology tools for learning. Numerous barriers currently limit this access. However, through a focused attention to availability, affordability, and adoption, communities can continue to develop promising strategies to overcome barriers and work toward digital equity.
COMMUNICATE: Leverage targeted communications methods to raise awareness and understanding of policies and programs that support learners, families/caregivers, and communities in their equitable participation in a digital economy and society.
COLLABORATE: Partner across sectors to work toward a shared vision for digital equity that is
reflective of the needs of learners, families/caregivers, and communities:
- State and local leaders will partner across agencies and offices to leverage collective resources, capacity, and expertise to prioritize and invest in broadband availability, affordability, and adoption.
- School systems will partner with community-based organizations and anchor institutions that enable and extend access to technology-empowered learning experiences.
- ISPs will partner across sectors to conduct inclusion campaigns on affordable connectivity and device options and offer linguistically and culturally inclusive and accessible technical support.
- Foundations and community-based organizations will partner across sectors to identify and scale “what works” in digital inclusion, such as efforts to build digital readiness and digital literacy.
- Educational technology industry leaders will partner with learners, educators, families/caregivers, and school communities to co-design technologies that ensure active and accessible learning experiences, cultural responsiveness, and linguistic diversity.
CATALYZE: Accelerate progress toward digital equity by leveraging data that identifies barriers and building on the unique role that each sector can play in representing and meeting diverse needs and perspectives of learners, families/caregivers, and communities:
- State and local leaders will accelerate progress toward digital equity by inviting constituents to co-create and contribute to a shared vision, policies, and programs focused on creating an equitable digital economy and society.
- School systems will accelerate opportunities for technology-empowered learning by inviting families/caregivers, learners, educators, and community members to identify and contribute to digital inclusion goals.
- ISPs will accelerate broadband adoption by examining the availability and quality of connections and leveraging low/no cost options and programs such as the ACP to deliver high-quality, reliable access to the internet.
- Foundations and community-based organizations will accelerate awareness of the needs of learners, families/caregivers, and communities through ongoing research on and communication of adoption strategies and existing barriers to fully participating in the digital economy and society.
- Educational technology industry leaders will accelerate the inclusivity and accessibility of devices, tools, platforms, and instructional content to flexibly support a wide range of active learning experiences and needs.
Individual communities cannot do this work alone. Although educators and education leaders have been critical drivers of digital equity, partnerships and cross-sector collaborations are imperative to ensure this responsibility does not solely fall on them. We call on leaders from various sectors to collaborate with community members to co-create solutions that accelerate progress toward digital equity. Suggested action steps are noted below.
The historic federal investments authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act offer critical opportunities for broadband planning that can identify and equitably address the various availability, affordability, and adoption challenges described throughout the previous sections. Using this guidance resource as a starting point, it is essential that leaders collaborate with those most impacted by the digital divide to develop comprehensive digital equity plans that outline strategies to meet the needs of learners, their families/caregivers, and communities effectively and sustainably.
92 Ochillo, F. (2022). The economic consequences and generational impact of the digital divide. Technology and Public Purpose Project, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School. https://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/files/publication/TAPP-Francella_Impact%20of%20the%20