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The digital divide was a topic of conversation prior to the COVID pandemic, but when a lockdown was enforced in 2020, the gap became a more apparent and pressing matter.

According to the Minnesota Reformer, experts estimated that the average student “lost seven months of learning due to interruptions during the pandemic—and for low-income students, less likely to have high-speed internet, the loss will be closer to 12 months.”

People needed technology and the internet to complete homework or to access resources and information. This included students of all ages, remote workers, and families. 

One component of ensuring digital equity is providing people with digital skills, such as understanding how to navigate a school portal to see a child’s grade.

During Sahan Journal’s virtual community conversation in partnership with Comcast on September 15, Eric Nesheim from Literacy Minnesota talked about how possessing digital skills is often forgotten in discussions about digital literacy. He shared programs to address the problem, including a platform called Northstar Digital Literacy that assesses, trains, and supports individuals.

Ini Augustine, founder of  Project Nandi, also focused on the problem, and included ongoing technical support for families in its services. 

Another panelist, Jalonda Combs, shared tips for parents who want to help their children combat some of these challenges. 

“First off, be patient with yourself and your children; we are learning and we want the best for every child within our community. I would suggest that parents need to be a constant advocate for their children,” Combs said. This might include being in communication with teachers or discussing a learning plan that best fits their child’s needs. 

Combs, director of STEM Programming at Summit Academy OIC, shared other recommendations: 

In addition, Stacey Nelson-Kumar, director of Community Impact at Comcast Twin Cities, spoke about the federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) which provides free or discounted internet service for eligible households. Families with an income level of 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level can receive $30 a month to pay for connectivity, including both internet and mobile, Nelson-Kumar said.

Yoko Vue is the Citizen Lab Project Assistant. She graduated from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities with a bachelor of arts in journalism and a minor in social justice.