Coronavirus: Students might feel digital divide after pandemic prompts closure of LA County schools

ByRob Hayes and Grace Manthey KABC logo
Friday, March 13, 2020
Students in LA area might feel digital divide in wake of coronavirus pandemic
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As schools across Southern California close due to the coronavirus pandemic, some are trying to go online. But an Eyewitness News analysis of U.S. Census data shows millions of households in the Los Angeles area may not have access to high-speed internet.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As Southern California school districts close schools amid the coronavirus pandemic, they will likely have to extend learning to kids at home.

But experts say sending them packing with a folder of learning materials most likely won't help much.

"What we know is that you really do need someone who's more knowledgeable and can give you feedback," said Artineh Samkian, an associate professor of clinical education at the University of Southern California. "Sending a worksheet home isn't really going to teach them."

RELATED: Coronavirus: LAUSD to close schools amid COVID-19 outbreak

One option some districts are touting are online classes, with kids signing on from their homes.

But an Eyewitness News analysis of 2018 U.S. census data uncovered a flaw in relying on the internet as a teaching tool.

Within the Greater Los Angeles area, 22% of households don't have access to high-speed internet needed to stream videos.

RELATED: Coronavirus Southern California update

Almost 6% don't even have a computer.

Together, that's 4 million families whose kids might not be able to attend virtual classes.

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Some areas have an even higher percentage.

27% of households within the Los Angeles Unified School District don't have high-speed internet, and 8% don't have computers.

A whopping 40% of households within Compton Unified don't have high speed internet and 10% don't have computers.

RELATED: Coronavirus: Santa Monica, Malibu public schools temporarily shut down after possible exposure

"We see an opportunity gap with our most vulnerable students being the least well served and I can see this widening that inequity," said Samkian.

Online learning comes with other problems as well. Notably, distraction.

"It's a click away to check your email or have multiple screens open," said Samkian. "It's even hard for adults to keep the focus in the instructional space, and so I think that kids would have an even harder time to be focused."

In addition, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said the district is looking to use public television channels to reach kids during the coronavirus closure.

In an effort to combat the digital divide, internet companies Charter and Comcast announced Friday they would offer 60 days of free internet to homes with students who need it.