Modern society is highly digitalized, which is also reflected in the educational process and the principles of teaching and learning. Currently, digital technologies are increasingly used in education. This trend only intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many were faced with the need for remote learning. However, with the spread of digital technologies, members of disadvantaged communities have experienced the impact of the digital divide, which also affected their educational opportunities and academic performance. Many students do not have sufficient access to digital devices and the Internet, and teachers have insufficient technological resources and competencies to integrate new technologies into the educational process actively. This phenomenon has led to the emergence of digital inequality, which leads to limited opportunities for some students to learn effectively in the face of increasing digitalization. Digital equity is currently a social justice issue that can only be addressed by joint actions of the federal and local governments, as well as the involvement of private stakeholders.
Modern pedagogical standards trumpet integration from teachers. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) affect the educational process. The implementation of ICTs in the educational setting at all levels has made it possible to transform teaching approaches, improve the quality of education, and expand the audience of students interested in online learning options (Youssef et al., 2022). Additionally, new technologies have made it possible to diversify the tools that teachers use to develop skills and expand students’ knowledge (Youssef et al., 2022). At the same time, the active use of ICTs in the educational setting is associated with the growing problem of unequal access to the Internet and digital resources (Mendoza-Lozano et al., 2021). This aspect results in the fact that some students, not having equal opportunities to use new technologies for education, experience difficulties with academic performance. This phenomenon is referred to as the digital divide, which in the modern world affects ever-larger populations.
The digital, pedagogical, and resource divide is characterized by differences in access to digital resources among different groups of students, which affects pedagogical practices and academic performance. This phenomenon is defined as “the gap in access to digital resources and the knowledge to use resources to support learning” (Moldavan et al., 2022, p. 278). The term also refers to uneven access to the use of new media and other types of ICTs (Lozano & Izquierdo, 2019). Moldavan et al. (2022) note that during the COVID-19 urban pandemic, teachers faced the problem of disparities in students’ access to the Internet and digital devices, which required them to transform their approach to remote learning. Researchers underline that the use of technology in the educational process can both enhance inclusiveness and increase inequality among students from different social groups (Ferlazzo, 2020; Young & Noonoo, 2020). Digital equity is a matter of both students’ physical access to digital learning resources and the social access that empowers learning and connectivity.
The digital divide is characterized not only by uneven access to digital resources but also by a gap in the development of digital literacy. In an educational context, the digital divide is defined by different levels of digital skills among students depending on their socio-economic status (Frolova, 2020). The researchers note that in low-income regions and countries, significant gaps in the skills to use educational programs and digital literacy have been identified (Ma et al., 2019). Acquiring a high level of technical and digital skills is associated with economic resources, which increases the level of inequality in access to digital educational resources and their effective use for learning and teaching (Frolova, 2020). Thus, the digital divide is the subject of social equality and justice, as it significantly affects academic performance and the future success of students.
The problem of the digital divide that affects educational performance in US schools is a growing problem. Quello Center conducted a study of Internet access among rural and urban American students to describe this phenomenon. The report identifies that “rural students and low-income students are less likely to have high-speed Internet access at home” (Hampton et al., 2020, p. 5). In particular, only about 53% of students in rural areas have access to high-speed Internet, compared to over 70% of students in urban areas and cities (Hampton et al., 2020, p. 5). Additionally, students who do not have access also have less access to alternative resources for digital activities. They have no laptop or computer at home, as well as no internet access outside school.
The digital divide, expressed by uneven access to the Internet and devices, has an impact on educational performance. The report also highlights that more than 80% of students say they receive homework that requires using the Internet (Hampton et al., 2020, p. 6). At the same time, more than 60% of students who do not have home internet or digital devices say that they “leave homework unfinished because they lack Internet access or a computer” (Hampton et al., 2020, p. 6). Tate (2021) notes that the southern states such as Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Alabama are characterized by a greater number of rural territories, which leads to a greater influence of the digital divide. It is also important that students of color, including Hispanics and Black, are more often affected by this phenomenon (Tate, 2021). Additionally, students from low-income families are also exposed to the digital divide, which affects their performance (Tate, 2021). Thus, at the moment, there is a disparity in access to the Internet and digital devices among specific populations of students.
Not just students have concerns about the digital divide; this phenomenon also affects teachers and educational practices. The American Educator Panels (AEP) reports that about 20% of teachers emphasize the existence of challenges associated with students’ lack of access to the Internet or digital devices, as well as a low level of digital literacy, especially in the context of remote learning (Stelitano et al., 2020). Educators also report that students with home internet access are more likely to complete homework and have higher academic achievement overall (Stelitano et al., 2020). Teachers working in high-poverty schools are also more likely to report that their students do not have access to the Internet or do not have a computer, which confirms the existence of a socially determined digital inequality in the educational setting (Stelitano et al., 2020). Thus, the problem of the digital divide is a challenge for both students and teachers. In particular, teachers are forced to limit the use of innovative teaching methods using ICTs due to students’ uneven access to the Internet and digital devices.
In addition to the existing inequality of students’ access to the Internet and other technologies, teachers also experience difficulties associated with an underdeveloped technical infrastructure in educational institutions. As with the socio-economic disparity that negatively impacts digital literacy and access to digital resources for students, educators in higher-poverty schools have limited access to both technological resources and appropriate training (Lozano & Izquierdo, 2019). The researchers also note that it is not only physical access that is critical to the effective use of ICTs for educational purposes (Lozano & Izquierdo, 2019). For example, in the United States, despite wide access to social media and other technologies, teachers often do not use x advantages due to limited competencies and insufficient digital literacy (Lozano & Izquierdo, 2019). Thus, the digital divide has socio-economic roots and is also determined by physical access to digital technologies and the level of digital literacy of both teachers and students. Moreover, these indicators also depend on social conditions, in particular economic resources.
Uneven access to digital resources also implies a different level of use of the benefits they provide for learning and teaching. Willems (2019) underlines that digital equity is a social justice issue. In fact, this assumption is correct since socio-economic differences result in limited access of students and teachers to the use of ICTs in the educational process. As noted, this may be due to a lack of physical access to digital resources, including limited Internet access or lack of a computer, or due to a low level of digital literacy. These problems are most typical for disadvantaged populations, such as low-income students, members of racial minorities, and rural residents (Sanford & Irving, 2020). Thus, the digital divide between teaching and learning appears to be a matter of social justice, especially for socially and economically disadvantaged learners. These concerns concern not only home access to digital resources but also school-based disparities in the technological educational infrastructure and relevant competencies of teachers.
Addressing the problem of the digital divide is a priority of the modern education system, which is designed to leverage the educational opportunities of students from different social groups offered by ICTs. Chandra et al. (2021) note that “closing the divide requires strong policy direction and funding from government entities, as well as engagement and ongoing investment from stakeholders across the private and social sectors.” In particular, an effective strategy for addressing an existing problem involves a combination of relevant policy-making, the creation of technological infrastructure, and appropriate training initiatives. Moldavan (2021) et al. note that real-world advocacy of digital equity faces a number of obstacles and limitations as schools are forced to provide digital resources themselves to support the educational goals provided by the curriculum. Thus, educational institutions need the support of the government and various stakeholders to ensure physical access to ICTs and the relevant competencies of teachers.
Improving students’ access to digital technologies and reducing the existing divide is possible due to the implementation of state and local initiatives. Tate (2021) cites examples of effective programs in Oklahoma, Texas, and Alabama that has focused on buying computers and expanding home Internet access for low-income and disadvantaged families. In addition, some projects of private companies provide preferential access to the Internet for low-income households, as well as preferential plans for online educational platforms (Tate, 2021). However, such efforts are not enough to ensure digital equity in the long term and on the required scale. Therefore, a necessary strategy is also the development of technological infrastructure in schools, as well as increasing digital literacy among teachers and students in rural and low-income areas, as well as in racial communities through federal and state policies.
The main strategies for achieving digital equality should be to maintain digital literacy, expand access to ICTs, and broader curricula options. First of all, in order to reduce the digital divide in education, it is necessary to promote specialized courses to increase digital literacy among students, especially from disadvantaged communities. Additionally, it is important to provide appropriate professional training for educators in order to ensure a more diverse integration of ICTs into the educational process. It is also important for educational institutions to develop both school-based technological infrastructure and maintain students’ home access to the Internet and devices. School districts need to provide students with access to devices in a school setting, as well as low-cost devices and free educational platforms for home use. Finally, it is important to provide students and teachers with the opportunity to vary the degree of use of ICTs in the educational process, taking into account access to ICTs, in order to meet the individual needs of students.
Thus, the digital divide has a significant impact on the modern educational context. In particular, many students with limited access to digital devices and the Internet experience difficulties in learning effectively. Teachers have uneven access to digital resources as well as to appropriate training, which together creates a digital divide. This phenomenon leads to the inability of many students from disadvantaged communities to study effectively, which hinders their socio-economic development. In order to address the existing problem and establish social justice and digital equity, the efforts of the federal and local government to support digital literacy, expand access to physical resources, and develop curricula that meet the needs of students and teachers are necessary.
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