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Only 64% of Black students have full digital access for online schooling: RPT

Ronald Chaluisán, Newark Trust for Education Executive Director, joins Yahoo Finance's Reggie Wade and Kristin Myers to discuss how the digital divide is impacting minority students.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: I want to talk now about education. With so many children working from home, access to a computer and internet is critical. So we're joined now by Ronald Chaluisan, education executive director for Newark Trust. We also have Yahoo Finance's Reggie Wade here with us.

So Ronald, I was reading a study from Deutsche Bank that said-- and I'm going to quote them here-- 76% of Blacks and 62% of Hispanics could get shut out or be underprepared for 86% of jobs in the US by 2045. And then, they go on to say-- and this is really concerning-- if this digital racial gap is not addressed in one generation alone, digitization could render the country's minorities into an unemployment abyss-- an unemployment abyss. How do we stop that from happening?

RONALD CHALUISAN: Well, this is the work that we need to be doing right now. If you look at those numbers, really, 2045 are our young children who are being born through age 7 right now, who'll be in the job market kind of in their high yield years. So, really thinking about that issue right now. I think the study itself does talk about a five-year kind of $15 billion plan across the nation that would help to do that.

There are three big components, really, to think about, the first being the actual devices in homes. 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, job-- workforce development, things along those lines. So that's part number one.

Part number two is the internet access itself and connecting at a high enough speed that allows for video conferencing. It allows for downloading information quickly. It allows for interactivity. And then, the third part, which 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 that level of experience with things like coding and access to those kinds of training programs. So those three components at this point in time really become necessary to think of at the systemic level.

REGGIE WADE: Ron, Reggie Wade here. We hear a lot about federal stimulus. And people look to the federal government to help fund some of these programs. But where do you think the onus lies? Is it directly on the shoulders of the federal government? Or is it on state and local governments as well?

RONALD CHALUISAN: Well, I think it is-- I think it's a combination. I think that you have-- you know, as I said, I do think that this is a systemic issue. And so, you know, at the state level, states are responsible for the education of young people. And at this point, the technology is a critical component of the educational process. You know, we had issues like this in the past when things like textbooks became so critical and were so expensive.

And there were-- there's funding sources for those, so that schools could have them and have-- the students and families could have access to them. At this point, the issue is a little bit more complicated because you have the hardware itself, and then you have the access to the internet. So I do think that thinking about what those funding sources are.

The other part that the study talks about, which I think does become part of the federal responsibility is Black and Latino households are currently 10 years behind, both in the number of devices and in the availability to internet. And so, really thinking about 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, so that we're not-- I don't believe that the states and local communities can actually do that alone.

REGGIE WADE: Ronald, do you have a fear of complacency? Like, once we get on the other side of the pandemic and children are back in the classrooms, that this push may fall by the wayside to get more devices in the homes of children who critically need them.

RONALD CHALUISAN: Reggie, I think that's one of the biggest things that I'm concerned about. I think COVID, when COVID hit, I can speak to Newark, the early assessment where that we had about 7,000 children that could not access the learning at that time, at that moment in time. Over those months, we've been able to get devices into the hands of children, but certainly not enough devices. And there is a backlog of ordering, which then creates a problem as far as if computers break down or things along those lines.

Once kids are back in school, which we are hoping is as soon as possible, that urgency does fade. However, the need doesn't, right? One of the things that I do hope is the learning that's occurred over the last 11 months, where the technology piece has been so critical, pushes us to understand how important integration of what we've learned needs to be as we move forward.

In other words, I don't believe that we should be abandoning the remote learning parts of education, just because students are re-entering 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, but it accelerated. The hitting-- COVID hit, and all of those things accelerated just by need, by sheer need. So I'm hoping that that doesn't go away and if that doesn't go away, to continue this urgency in ensuring that every family has what they need.

One thing I will say, you know, schools, districts, charter districts, and public-- districts and charter schools both did a relatively amazing job at getting resources so that they could supply homes with computers. There was a big push for that. I don't think that that's enough, right? I just don't think that that's enough. It basically just creates a one-time hit on an immediate problem. And we have to look at this as an ongoing need and an ongoing resource for our students and families.

KRISTIN MYERS: Right. Ronald, I'm curious to know if you think that there's going to be a lost-- I don't want to say generation, but several lost graduation classes for whom, you know, all of this is going to be too late, even if we do start increasing that access to devices to better internet access. If there is going to be a gap, a group of folks that we're not going to be able to reach.

RONALD CHALUISAN: All right. Well, again, I think of this not so much as a P12 issue as I do a community-based issue, right? And so, whatever strategy we adopt, we need to think about a differentiated strategy in which students who are currently participating in the P12 system are getting the supports that they need. However, that doesn't represent all of the young people whom we should be targeting in order to make sure that they're gaining the skills necessary to continue to work in the workforce.

So, really thinking through how do we approach this not-- it should not just be the public school systems issue. This is really a community issue. It's a municipality, a state issue, that we need to think about how we approach. We need to have differentiated strategies for kids and young people who are in different places.

For example, Prudential, I know in Newark, just did a grant for young people who have graduated from high school or in their beginning stages of workforce participation and are going to be partnering with Per Scholas, which is an organization that does the type of training that I was talking about in the past. So, really thinking about who are the subgroups of young people, where are they, and what needs to happen, so that they get those three components.

REGGIE WADE: Ronald, I wanted to quickly ask you. I know you were a teacher. What are educators saying about this digital divide? Because I know teachers have a lot on their plates, and so many different things makes their job more difficult. But what are you hearing from the educators themselves?

RONALD CHALUISAN: Right, so I want to say that educators, young educators and educators who have been in the system for a while, are a piece of this puzzle, right? So for some educators, the same gap in learning that we have just been talking about for the young people exists. And so, I think part of this is-- one of the strategies we need to be thinking about is what are the supports that are necessary for teachers, educators in the school system, so that they can master the skills necessary to use the technology in a way that's going to make their work more efficient, right?

At this point in time, I feel like the entire remote learning piece, because it came about the way that it came about, has been an addition. It is on top of everything they have to do. If you look at some of the early work, they had to crepe paper packets because of the number of kids that were not accessing the internet. They needed to do that. They needed to teach in real time. They needed to understand different platforms.

And so, the level of support that teachers need and the time to develop those skills needs to be part of this developing strategy, so that over time, their jobs are-- they are becoming more efficient in their jobs because they're gaining the skills that the technology can provide for them. And they're gaining the connection to students and families that allows them to be more efficient in the way that they work.

KRISTIN MYERS: An absolutely important conversation as we talk more about education going forward in a post-pandemic world. Ronald Chaluisan, education executive director for Newark Trust, Yahoo Finance's Reggie Wade, thank you both for joining us today for this very important conversation.

RONALD CHALUISAN: Thank you very much for having me.