Education is one of the greatest equalizers that can lift individuals out of poverty and help provide access to an inclusive path on the road to create generational wealth. But access to vital pedagogical tools and adequate broadband is sparse at best.
The digital divide disproportionately impacts Black and brown students from grade school to higher learning. Moreover, prolonged school closures amid the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated education inequities in urban communities that cannot be ignored any longer.
Consequently, disenfranchised students have fallen further behind in the current remote learning environment, and the compounding residual effects will linger long after students return to school. In contrast, students’ learning in higher-income households accelerated, which only broadened the gaps in education and future earning potential.
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Therefore, as Congress contemplates a bill to procure nationwide infrastructure investments, lawmakers must prioritize broadband expansion that achieves equitable digital access. Especially given the trends in academia toward the proliferation of distant learning options and the augmentation of virtual classrooms in America and abroad.
However, closing the education achievement gap is not solely the responsibility of the federal and state government. Corporations and other for-profit entities have a significant role in preparing students for their academic journey and careers — namely, the consortium of publishers of educational materials like Kaplan, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Wiley.
But how so?
As an adjunct assistant professor at New York University and an adjunct instructor at Hampton University, I have firsthand knowledge of disparities in college-level skillsets across various socioeconomic backgrounds at both academic institutions. Hence, closing the gap can be remedied, in part, by enhancing college-bound preparation from middle school onward.
Perhaps the first step by a consortium of educational service providers to ascertain new ways to invest in underserved communities would be establishing a coalition of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and a cohort of public school districts in various urban metropolis cities across America. The anecdotes, in-depth knowledge exchange, and statistical data from the respective group collaboration can provide insight into needed upgrades, the efficacy of new product development, and cultural enhancements to learning materials.
Additionally, partnering with intermediaries to make investments in scholarships in underrepresented communities coupled with affordable access to testing materials and educational books can make a significant, long-lasting, and measurable impact.
Suppose the aforementioned is not compelling enough for education service providers to think and do differently. Perhaps recent announcements by two well-renowned university systems are an eye-opener.
The University of California system announced that it would no longer consider standardized tests like the ACT and SAT scores in the college admissions evaluation process. Also, the City University of New York (CUNY) has suspended these standardized exams through 2023. And, its statewide counterpart, the State University of New York (SUNY), may do the same as other state-run university systems, and private academic institutions may follow suit.
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But for now, at the grade school level, the Biden administration is committed to continuing standardized testing, which means parents, teachers, and schools will need support in helping students in their educational development.
Completing the 5G rollout and the impending expansion of internet access are opportunities to close the academic gap. In addition, it will enable stakeholders in education to reach disenfranchised populations in a low-cost and effective way using online tools than traditional hard copy resources.
As children, teenagers, and adult learners prepare to return to school this fall, now is the time for companies to align their social responsibility goals with building an inclusive future comprised of enriching students’ academic aptitude while also serving to narrow the income gap.
Burnett is the managing director of 1 Empire Group, a business consulting company. He is also an adjunct assistant professor at New York University and adjunct instructor at Hampton University.