Two years of COVID-19 unleashed a worldwide pandemic that was unthinkable until it hit — and brought a host of hard lessons that radically changed how we live.
Among these: adapting to distance learning, which became the mode of education across Hawaii, the nation and beyond. What it also exposed, even more sharply than previously known, was the depth of the disturbing digital divide between the haves and have-nots.
That’s why it is imperative that every dollar of the $71,520,353 in federal COVID-19 assistance money just awarded to Hawaii public schools must go toward closing the digital inequity gap faced by students who can’t readily connect via home internet, plus other student-learning supports.
“Schools may have had Chromebooks to loan, but not all families had internet access, or perhaps were sharing one cell phone hotspot with multiple people in the home,” David Miyashiro, executive director of the nonprofit Hawaii KidsCAN, has said. “And when people are losing jobs, internet becomes a luxury.”
The $72.5 million is from the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund Program, part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed by Congress in March 2021. The funds will buy laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hot spots, routers and broadband connectivity for use by students and school staffers.
During the pandemic, HawaiiKidsCAN saw the urgent need for reliable Wi-Fi in hard-to-service spots — so, with sponsors, spearheaded “WI-FI on Wheels,” a program using buses and vans to provide free mobile Wi-Fi from about 11 sites on four islands. Usually setting up on weekdays when nearby schools were in session, this proved invaluable in helping hundreds of students keep up.
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