COVID-19 Has Accelerated Technology’s Role in Student Equity. It Should Be The New Normal.

By Jon Cheney
May 14, 2020

The coronavirus has upended our education system. Around 1.6 billion students have had their schools closed, turning to online learning for the remainder of the school year. This has heightened a number of existing issues in the sector, perhaps the biggest of them being the matter of student equity. The crisis has exacerbated concerns regarding students’ access to basic needs like computers, WiFi, and high quality digital education tools. With parents struggling to educate their kids at home, relying on the minimal resources available to them, many children are at a serious risk of falling behind.

We Are At A Crossroads

Despite this, we have a serious chance to make lasting improvements to student equity through the use of technology. Yes, the pandemic has thrown a lot into disarray, but paradoxically, COVID-19 has also been an accelerant for “digital transformation” across the board, forcing our hands to innovate and create better solutions. The education system stands to benefit in a major way. New technology that bridges the gap in student equity was already in high demand – now it is imperative.

The great news is that there is already a foundation of technology being deployed that has brought positive change to student equity, and will be instrumental as we move through the pandemic.

WiFi Access For Everyone

In the United States, about 9.4 million of our students do not have that kind of access to the internet. As a result, school districts and governments have been getting creative about how to get WiFi distributed to underserved communities. These solutions range from transforming buses into mobile WiFi hotspots and public parks serving as drive-in hotspots. With powerful resources like 5G connectivity, students can view and collaborate on large-format files, make 3D drawings together or take VR field trips – even if they are forced to do school work from home. Ensuring every student has access to WiFi as an educational right should be a priority, now and moving forward.

Three students sit around a desk discussing.
Christina @ wocintechchat, Unsplash.

Enhanced Digital Resources

One of the most powerful assets a student can have (now more than ever) is a quality digital tool set. That can include virtual online classrooms, specialized web portals for assignments, and personalized learning experiences through augmented reality. Augmented reality in particular has steadily become a regular part of numerous industries because of its ability to enhance learning and interactive experiences. In the classroom (and now at home), where learning is the entire goal, there is powerful potential. Engaging digital experiences can have an incredible effect on memory encoding and learning. In essence, the learning experience is enhanced for the student and the teaching experience is improved for the instructor.

Improving Classroom Tools

All the digital tools in the world can improve the quality of homeschooling for the time being, however it is not a true replacement, and schools are feeling the pressure to be ready when kids are eventually back in the classroom. Ideally, what we’ve learned from remote schooling in this pandemic can be used to improve the classroom. One of the ways we can guarantee this is by doubling down on bringing tools like computers, tablets, and projectors into the classroom. Having access to resources as simple as Google Docs or basic internet in the classroom can vastly enhance the way students learn and, perhaps more importantly, show them what is possible with advanced technology in their toolkit. Leaning into powerful in-classroom technology will help close the equity gap – something we should be prepared to dive into with both feet on the other side of the pandemic.

A Better New Normal for Education

What people all over the world are contending with is the permanent change that a post-COVID world will bring. While it can be unsettling to think about, not all of these changes are negative. “Going back to normal” means something different to everyone. In the case of the education system, the advancements that are happening in tech right now are the kind of advancements that have been needed for a long time. While nothing can replace an empowering classroom environment, these technological solutions are bridging the equity gap and should be part of the new normal on the other side of this crisis.

Author Bio: Jon Cheney is CEO and co-founder of SeekXR, which recently launched Seek Education, an online platform and supplemental teaching resource designed to encourage interactive learning through augmented reality.

Featured Image: Charles Deluvio, Unsplash.