Ronald Chaluisan, the executive director of the nonprofit think tank Newark Trust for Education, says the digital divide is the modern-day version of redlining, the discriminatory practice that puts services, financial and otherwise — out of reach for residents of specific areas based on race or ethnicity. It was used throughout the 1950s and 1960s to deny mortgages and loans to African Americans in certain neighborhoods even though the applicants were otherwise eligible for the loans.
"In some ways, I think about it almost like redlining in the 50s. It's our version of redlining at this point, it feels to me," he said.
Chaluisan joined Yahoo Finance to discuss the three things needed to bridge the chasm.
The first issue is access to hardware. “Many of the families do not have the devices necessary for the kind of connectivity that is needed at this point, to connect not only to schools but to social services like job workforce development and things along those lines,” he said.
Internet access must also be addressed. Chaluisan tells Yahoo Finance that students need high-speed internet that allows for video conferencing and the ability to download information quickly.
The third component is something that Chaluisan says is often forgotten about — training. “The third part we don’t really speak all that much about is really the training of young people. Many of the universities talk about young people coming in at ages 18, mostly Black and Latino who have not had the level of experience with things like coding, and access to those kinds of training programs.”
Chaluisan says that we must think at the systemic level in order to reverse the course. Funding and resources for bridging the divide must come from the federal, state, and local levels.
“The issue is a little bit more complicated because you have the hardware itself and then you have access to the internet, so I do think that thinking about what those funding sources are … Black and Latino households are currently 10 years behind both in the number of devices and in the availability to the internet. And so I’m really thinking about how do you, how do you hit that gap? How do you impact that gap systematically and systemically at scale so that you can erase that backlog and actually get to a running start? I don’t believe that the states and local communities can actually do that alone.”
One of Chaluisan’s biggest fears is complacency about the digital divide when students return to in-person learning when the pandemic subsides.
“I don’t believe that we should be abandoning the remote learning parts of education, just because students are reentering school buildings. We should be consistently using what we’ve learned over the last 11 months around connecting students to experts around connecting students to each other around ongoing education possibilities. Around decreasing things like snow days and absence from school because of snow days around improving transportation and connection to schooling. There are so many things that we’ve learned that we were slowly doing prior to COVID ... and all of those things accelerated just by sheer need, so I’m hoping that that doesn’t go away.”
Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.