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Survey Reveals Major Barriers to Online Learning for VA Students


Monday, August 24, 2020   

RICHMOND, Va. -- With Virginia students about to return to online classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic, a new report shows one-in-five-5 K-12 and college students in the Commonwealth don't have broadband access or a computer in their homes.

The study by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia highlights the inequalities students face with digital learning during the pandemic, according to Thomas Allison, senior associate with the Council.

He said the report reveals a surprising finding: While students in rural areas of Virginia still have problems accessing broadband, about 40% of all students lacking access live in urban areas.

"The fact that 40% of the students without broadband live in Virginia cities is a very important point," Allison said. "So, you can have 20 or 30 different options of different companies that want to sell you a broadband subscription, but if you can't afford any of them, it's of no use to you."

He said the report aimed to present an opportunity for policymakers to form a comprehensive response to the challenges presented by the digital divide. Schools in Loudoun, Alexandria and Fairfax counties are among the systems opening with distance learning Sept. 8.

The study analyzed data from the U.S. Census' American Community Survey.

Allison said it finds one major barrier for students -- especially students of color -- is not having enough computers in the home to effectively learn online. He said the survey showed Black and Latino students subscribe to broadband services at similar rates as white students, but the divide emerges with access to computers and laptops.

"Eighteen percent of African-American students and 15% of Latino students don't have a computer in the home. For white students in the Commonwealth it's half as much at 7%," he said. "So, to address the digital divide along racial and ethnic lines, we do think more about subsidizing devices instead of broadband services."

He said it's important to note that online learning becomes more difficult when homes only have one computer that must be shared among children and parents who may be working from home.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.

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