As millions of kids are learning virtually at home because of coronavirus, the crucial question remains: do they all have access to computers and WiFi?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. One elected official, Councilman Fernando Cabrera, is trying to change this and has called for the Department of Education (DOE) to immediately distribute all working surplus laptops and tablets to students in need.
Cabrera spoke with the Bronx Times about this troubling situation.
“It’s hard to believe that in New York City we are perpetuating the ‘digital divide’ in our children’s education,” Cabrera said. “We’ve heard that the DOE started distribution of 25,000 devices this week, but this is just a drop in the bucket.”
DOE estimates 300,000 families need devices for their children and priority is being given to those who are homeless, in NYCHA properties and from low-income families.
According to Cabrera, the DOE ordered 500,000 Ipads, but only 171, 000 have arrived so far. With just 25,000 devices distributed per week, it may take weeks before kids have them. This is unacceptable, he exclaimed.
“How can kids be expected to learn if they don’t have the proper tools in place?” he said.
Cabrera understands these are challenging times, but stresses that every student must have a laptop or tablet as soon as possible. If a child misses a day or week of school they fall behind; imagine if they have don’t have a laptop for a month, he said.
“What do you do with students that are not getting them?” he asked. “We need to think outside the box. My request is for public schools is to release the laptops that are available in their schools to some of their kids with the greatest needs.”
The councilman said that while the council cannot afford to fund laptops, the DOE surely can.
He noted that while some families have a computer, they have more than one child who needs access to it. On a regular school day this would not be an issue, but with multiple kids at home and only one device, therein lies the rub.
Cabrera explained many parents are confused and not sure how to get a laptop for their kids. The DOE has an online request link for parents to complete if their children need a laptop or tablet. He said that even before this pandemic many families have been living without internet and hopes this will propel things to change.
“The experience of a pandemic is frightening and traumatic for anyone, but especially children,” Cabrera said. “Trauma and fear are themselves stumbling blocks to learning. The DOE must not perpetuate the digital divide by failing to make online learning a reality for all New York City public school students. We have to get this right.”
To request a laptop or iPad for your child, go to www.schools.nyc.gov/learn-at-home/ipad-distribution