While the term food insecurity is widely-known and referenced, partnering with local school districts to provide free meals for students has led us to identify another challenge for families with school-aged children – something we call “technology insecurity.” We found that children living in food-insecure households are often also facing technology insecurity, or inconsistent access to the technology needed for students to thrive in school.
Learn more about these technology needs, the barriers preventing families from securing them, and what impact this has on academic success.
Technology Needs in Our Local Schools
Keeping technology up to date in classrooms puts a significant financial strain on school districts, but is necessary for helping students excel academically. In our 21st-century world, reliable technology has become as basic of a necessity as pencils and paper for students. Local administrators and teachers work hard to provide the best learning tools and technology resources to aid their students’ learning, with many districts in Northeast Ohio providing Chromebooks for all students, but students’ families are still responsible for purchasing some technology needs.
School supplies like advanced calculators, Chromebook accessories like mice and headphones, and securing at-home Wifi are all examples of these added expenses for families with school-aged children. Scientific calculators are a requirement for many high school mathematics courses and can cost up to $150. Mice and headphones are also a requested school supply for elementary students and beyond because they are used for administering tests and listening to online lessons. Beyond these expenses, and replacement costs for any items broken during the school year, all families are also asked to pay monthly for Wifi in order for students to complete their assignments at home.
Barriers to Securing Technology
For many families struggling to make ends meet or facing job insecurity in our communities, it’s a burden to cover the cost of this extra technology, on top of other needed school supplies. Back-to-school donation drives often provide items like backpacks, folders, and writing utensils to families in need, but purchasing pricier items like additional chargers, mice, headphones and calculators are still the responsibility of parents and guardians.
Households already having a difficult time paying for groceries often can’t set aside the funds required to purchase these items, resulting in many students in local schools not having access to certain technology items that aid their learning, or access to Wifi at home. While participating Ohio providers offer internet discounts to eligible families, there may still not be room for the cost of Wifi in the family budget. Even with free internet service available at public libraries, students may not have transportation there or are responsible for watching younger siblings after school – making this not an option.
While financial reasons are a significant barrier to purchasing technology not provided by schools, other factors like family structure can also contribute to students not having access. Students bouncing from one relatives’ home to another, or being cared for by a grandparent, may also have a difficult time securing technology items or Wifi. It can also be more difficult for schools to work with non-English speaking families to secure these technology needs for students.
For items provided to students, like Chromebooks, purchasing this technology may not be a barrier – but these devices are often shared with various family members because the school issued device is the only one in the home. Common usage with family members sometimes results in lost or uncharged Chromebooks, leaving the student unprepared for school. Additionally, students who split time between multiple homes sometimes forget their devices at one location so it may be awhile before the device is back in their possession.
Impact of Technology Insecurity On Students
In addition to making students unprepared for the school day, technology insecurity also has greater impacts on individual students’ learning as well as the overall classroom environment. When a large number of students in a classroom do not have headphones, independent learning and computer testing become more difficult. Without Wifi at home, completing homework is difficult for students. For many teachers, this means a limited amount of activities can be offered for assignments at home. At the high school level, no at-home Wifi may mean incomplete research papers and assignments for students, resulting in poor grades. When a scientific calculator costs $150, a student might choose another class that doesn’t require it – hindering their full potential and academic goals.
Let’s Take the Next Step
The scenarios are endless, but one thing holds true for each – technology insecurity is negatively impacting students in our local schools. Want to help us do something about it? We’ve started gathering information from the Northeast Ohio school districts we partner with to better understand how we can help meet the technology needs of students. Contact us if you have input or ideas for how we can contribute – we’d love to hear from you!
Become a Champion
Do you want to get involved in the fight against the childhood hunger in Northeast Ohio?
Get in touch with our team. We are always in need of volunteers, donors, sponsors and community partners to help us fulfill our mission of alleviating child hunger in our community.