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Bridging the digital divide

Connectivity, technology and mentoring should be available to all students

The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered Chicago’s “digital divide,” as residents of all ages in the city’s underserved communities struggle to keep up with important daily activities in the midst of a global pandemic.

At the K-12 level, the pandemic exposed the reality that thousands of students in Chicago Public Schools did not have the proper technology hardware, internet access and adult support to fully participate in remote online learning. These are critical learning resources that should be available to all students, regardless of socioeconomic status. Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) is committed to helping these underserved students and has joined forces with leaders in the private and public sectors to provide access to computers, internet connectivity and virtual mentoring so all students can achieve success in this digital age.

Chicago Public Schools, working in conjunction with a local broadband company, has created a program to provide free internet service to all school district families. The program includes access to hardware and the support of individuals who can help teach basic digital literacy skills to those who need it. A group of EY US volunteers has also been reaching out to families directly to tell them about the program and make sure they do not miss the opportunity to participate. EY US is working with the district and the United Way to provide financial support, as well as the recruitment of volunteers to boost participation and the overall success of the program. Part of the project’s focus includes exploring tools that would make online remote learning more effective, such as a camera in the classroom that would follow the teacher and enable students to feel more connected to what’s happening, despite not being physically present.

EY US is also working to improve connectivity for adults in the same underserved communities to make sure they are able to register online for a COVID-19 vaccine. Efforts are being made to bridge this gap and get people registered, as well as address the larger issue of so many families who have been left disconnected from the technology that feels ubiquitous to so many others.

The key to all this work is bridging this digital divide that is keeping so many people from being able to reach their full potential. At the K-12 level, it’s the future workforce that needs to learn and grow and identify what it is they want to do when they grow up. For adults, it’s about creating opportunities for a group of people who for too long, haven’t had the support needed to contribute to their communities in the ways they would like. With increased access to technology and the COVID-19 vaccine, there is an expanded pool of talent that can help Chicago thrive in a post-pandemic world.

Additional resources

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