Connected for the Future: How Massachusetts Broadband Equity Commission Can Close Digital Gaps
By: Amanda Fernandez
Our world is online now. Everything you need to know, from the latest on COVID-19 to school reopening plans, is available on the internet. The challenge is that not everyone has the same access to it.
We’re working hard to provide tech para todos in Massachusetts, and we know that we’ll need to think creatively to reimagine an education system that better serves Latino students as we continue to battle the COVID 19 pandemic and beyond. Luckily, we’re not alone in this effort to create a brighter path forward for our students. At Latinos for Education, we’re proud to be working towards common-sense solutions for all of our students by participating in the Massachusetts Broadband Equity Commission, which our state government created out of a need that was exacerbated by the pandemic.
This pandemic has made it clear that not every child has access to the same resources needed to succeed in the digital classroom. 87% of Americans nationwide viewed the internet as important during the pandemic, and yet plenty of students still have spotty or no WiFi access and few devices in the home with which they can participate in their online lessons; particularly in Latino households.
Access to reliable internet remains critical. We must acknowledge the fact that digital technology is a permanent feature of our students’ education. We need to create policies and structures that formalize and institutionalize new practices that are responsive to the needs of the Latino community and contribute to an equitable education system. In this way, we can unlock opportunities and access for more Latino students beginning with access to high-quality early childhood education. This is an equity issue that we need to resolve NOW.
I’m excited to elevate the voice and needs of Latino students, parents and educators on this Commission because our community continues to be among the most impacted from the growing digital divide. As I think about the journey this Commission will go on, and the recommendations it will eventually make, here are some areas for exploration:
- Broadband Access and Infrastructure. There are neighborhoods in cities like Boston, Lawrence, and Worcester where over 30% of residents have no access to broadband. We can explore things like making broadband accessible and free to residents by investing in broadband infrastructure, or creating community hotspots through private-public partnerships so families never have to go without wifi.
- Tech Devices. Households across the Commonwealth should all be equipped with at least one tech device so they can navigate this virtual world. But we know that households are diverse, some might have multiple families or multiple children living within the same household, so we must not limit our thinking about what equitable access means.
- Online Learning & Curriculum. We should explore what robust and high-quality instruction and learning looks like in online learning, especially for students who have been severely underserved during the pandemic, and find ways to invest and grow in those models so that students never have to go without months of quality instruction in the future.
- Digital Literacy. While the internet and technology has opened up the doors to so many opportunities, they have also exposed generational and cultural gaps when it comes to tech savviness. When we discuss skills for the 21st century, upskilling, and continuing education programs – we should discuss how to invest in programs that give all residents the skills they need to successfully navigate our digital world.
These are just some of the things that are on my mind, but I welcome your thoughts and recommendations as well. How else can we successfully close the digital divide not just in Massachusetts but across the country?
Amanda Fernandez is the CEO and Founder of Latinos for Education, the first Latino-founded and led national organization dedicated to creating leadership pathways for emerging Latino education leaders and diversifying education nonprofit boards. She is a Trustee of the Board with the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Roxbury Community College. El Planeta has twice named her one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in Massachusetts and she is a Senior Fellow at FutureEd. Amanda has over 25 years of experience in the areas of recruiting, diversity, organization development, change management, strategic planning, and Latino community relations.