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Op-ed: How the digital divide in education exacerbates social disadvantage

Broadband access is lower among low-income (57 percent) working class households. Within this, there are divisions by ethnicity.

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Photo via Getty Images on Unsplash
Photo via Getty Images on Unsplash

Technology has the potential to create opportunities, including within education. Students can learn, collaborate, research, and independently acquire knowledge from the Internet and other technologies. Thus, incorporating technology in learning, when connected to appropriate content, can be transformational.

However, for those who cannot access these services there is a risk of falling behind. leading to a new stratification in society whereby the ‘haves’ get more access to information and to new ideas while the ‘have-nots’ remain conversant with the old ways of life. The disparity in access to information technology can be either socio-economical or geographical, and the education sector is adversely affected by this rift.

There are some mechanisms by which students can obtain help, in terms of online curated content and essay support and writing, which are explored below. The issue at hand, however, is with the underserved and with the economically disadvantaged.

The impact of the digital divide is felt in all spheres of life, but it has been more noticeable in recent years and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic disrupted the educational process across the globe, as schools suddenly had to transition to online teaching. One immediate impact of the forced and rapid digitization was on inequalities in the learning process. This created division by social class, and also by gender, and ethnicity.

While data supports that the digital divide is continuing, the magnitude of this problem generated by capitalism is often underestimated. For example, although 87 percent of households in the U.S. have access to a smartphone, tablet, computer, or other connected devices, only 73 percent have access to the Internet. Here, the issue primarily lies with access to high-speed broadband, which people need to use much of what’s available online.

Broadband access is lower among low-income (57 percent) working class households. Within this social stratification, there are divisions by ethnicity with Latino (67 percent) and Black (61 percent) communities. Resources are more limited among younger people (the so-called K-12 contingent) and with household headed by non-college graduates (67 percent). These statistics have long been troubling, but they became exacerbated during the pandemic. Hence, COVID-19 made digital access an educational necessity and highlighted long standing gaps.

But understanding this problem necessitates an exploration of the digital divide in education definition before delving into its scope and impact in the education sector.

What is the Digital divide in education?

The digital impact is the gap between those with Internet access and those without. It is also manifest as the difference between those with sufficient knowledge of and access to technology and those without.

Wealthy families have the disposable money to purchase the latest technology and to obtain the best available learning materials. Consequently, they have better educational success. In contrast, the underprivileged members of the working class stay tendered to outdated old devices and a lack Internet access. It is often the case that students from disadvantaged neighborhoods cannot gain admission to schools that adamantly embrace information technology, leaving such access to members of the affluent in society. For children from low-income school districts, the digital divide in education can impede them from learning the crucial technology skills required to succeed in today’s world.

But the digital divide in education is multifaceted and encompasses several factors. As Michael Kende opined in Wired, “the digital divide is not a binary.” The following factors that lead to digital disparities can enhance the understanding of the digital divide in education.


Is there available access to the Internet in the area? Is there a nearby point of connection to the Internet? If yes, this is just the first step to having Internet access.


Is access to the Internet and other digital devices affordable? How does the cost compare to other essential goods and services? What percentage of income do you need to pay for access? These questions show that affordability is a key factor causing the digital divide in education.

Service Quality

Are the download and upload speeds sufficient for the local needs of Internet users? If not, affected students are likely to miss out on important educational materials online and fail to collaborate with their peers.


Does the connected community have the necessary skills and technologies? Is there local interest and understanding of the relevance of Internet access? These questions point to the narrow applicability of technology to people in their respective households.

Reducing the digital divide students

For students, alternatives are available when access to technology is limited. For example, a slow Internet connection may prevent students from completing an essay, solving a mathematics problem, writing code, or finishing a research proposal. Other reasons include a difficult research topic. Solutions to help redress the balance with the digital divide include using online services, such as Custom Writings (a custom essay writing service). The company has professional experts who provide academic assistance, especially with challenging topics. This type of online writing service can customize a paper according to individual needs.

How has the digital divide affected education in the U.S.?

The digital divide in education is a significant hindrance to the development of marginalized areas. It has affected individual students and schools across districts in the USA, lowering the academic outcomes of low-income, underserved learners and schools. The divide affects the future of young minds and reduces the chances of having a great and rewarding career. As an advanced capitalist state with a high per capita income, the U.S should take measures ensure equality in information technology access among its citizens and further influence the global trend.

The digital divide impacts education in the U.S in various ways.

Lack of exploitation to full potential

Individuals from low-income families have limited access to information crucial to advancing their education. Hence, class divisions are apparent.

Unfair competitive edge

The digital divide gives students who can access the Internet an unfair advantage over their less privileged counterparts. The underprivileged remain void of crucial academic information presented online and, thus, will always lag behind.

Low performance

Low-income families have less access to information that can advance their education. Limited access to educational materials negatively affects their performance.

Different learning experiences

Students from low socio-economic backgrounds face many disadvantages and must spend more hours to complete learning objectives. They undergo long hours of cumbersome studies to meet course objectives.

While education is a potential liberating aspect of our lives, technology has become integral to living in the 21st century and hence the access route for learning. In particular, the digital divide stands as a significant issue within the U.S. The COVID-19 pandemic has starkly exposed the gap. Devoid of reliable connectivity and devices, U.S. students cannot thrive in the modern educational system.

The government should look for immediate and practical solutions to the digital divide in education. This requires interventions and a progressive taxation system in order to create and maintain an equitable educational structure that provides all students with the opportunity to succeed.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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