Public Private Partnership Seeks to Close Digital Divide

Source: Catholic News

As countries across the globe continue to navigate the coronavirus pandemic, the importance of prioritizing children and schools has become a top priority for many governments. However, this emphasis on education has raised awareness about the glaring “digital divides” that not only exist between developed and developing countries, but also within many western countries such as the United States.

To address the digital divide, the Federal Communications Commission, the United States government agency that regulates internet communication systems, announced in January that an additional $7 billion in American Rescue Plan money to fund a fresh round of school broadband initiatives.

Responding to the FCC’s announcement, Associate Director of Public Policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Catholic Education Jennifer Daniels said, “We have seen several hundred Catholic schools participate.”

According to Daniels, among the schools designated to receive federal funding include “several hundred” religious schools.

Explaining the FCC’s announcement, Daniels said, “Because of their [FCC’s] goal to expand it, to have help with COVID impact, the big impact is that students can get devices to access to the internet — like a hotspot –and take it home with them.”

The interview took place while Daniels was waiting to pick up her daughter from school. “My own daughter’s school had to switch to online learning because they had a breakout in her class,” she said, underscoring that COVID-19 is still very much a factor two years after the pandemic started, and there are “a significant number of schools that are not able to do in-person learning.”

As a member of the Homework Gap Coalition, a project designed to identify funding structures to support broadband improvements, USCCB renewed its commitment to connecting students and educators online as students continue to navigate the challenges of virtual and in-person learning.

Two years ago, “everybody in the country, practically, was back at home trying to do their schooling,” said

Jon Bernstein, President of the Bernstein Strategy Group, a government relations firm, who serves as co-chair of the coalition which represents the American Federation of School Administrators said, “They [educators] realized there was a tremendous gap among kids — and educators, too — with a homework gap of 12 to 16 million people.”

The FCC funding will serve as a much needed emergency measure, however, the coalition hopes that by working with the FCC, a long term solution to closing the digital divide can be reached that will outlast the immediate needs of the pandemic.

Source: Catholic News