It doesn’t take a worldwide pandemic to show that education is steadily moving to technology. Even before 2020, schools across the country have been pivoting to bring more technology into (and out of) the classroom. A trend that has been leaving many students from low socio-economic statuses (SES) in the void between the haves and have nots. Add to this natural progression the catalyst of COVID and the results can be unsettling: remote learning and quarantine combine to make those without access prisoners in their own homes.
Casualties of the Digital Divide
But this lack of access reaches beyond just students. Brenda Powell, Executive Director of Laptops 4 Learning (L4L) and US veteran, saw that the veteran community shares the same lack of resources that many of the students aging out of the foster-care system experience. Not having a network of family or friends to lean-on in difficult times makes survival in a technological era subsistent. With the libraries—that many of them relied on for access—closing due to the quarantine, individuals can no longer apply for jobs, check on healthcare options, or catch up to their peers in even the most basic of ways.
On the flip side of this disparity, there are corporations across the country who find themselves desperate for an environmentally sound solution to the stockpile of technology they no longer need, or that they have an excess of. In this equation, programs like Laptops 4 Learning exist to “close the digital divide for students from low SES, and for many veterans who experience this same lack of access to technology.” And with generous corporate donors, our GoodTogether program can help facilitate this positive flow of devices from those who have too much to those who have nothing.
In fact, early in 2020, Laptops 4 Learning (L4L) received 10 high-quality laptops from a long-time GoodTogether donor, Chick-fil-A. While much of what L4L does is help students with funding their devices, being able to deliver laptops free of charge to 10 distressed students was a defining moment for 2020; a bright ray of hope in an otherwise dismal year. In fact, for one young woman who recently aged-out of foster care—and the home where she had access to a computer she used for school—receiving her donated laptop was a new lease on life.
Staying positive in 2020
Brenda calls this an “upside” of the pandemic. In a time when we all need silver linings, Brenda notes that “the problem [of lack of access] has always been there, but now that so many people are experiencing it,” Powell said, “it is a bigger part of the conversation.” And, let’s not forget that with so many corporations moving to remote work, a surplus of IT Assets have surfaced. It’s time we use the surplus to make this “conversation” a footnote in history.
For those students and veterans who cannot afford devices for themselves, receiving donated devices is a benefit that defies description. Technology, in its ability to unlock human potential, is one of the most effective ways to boost a community. Most of the students L4L helps are eager to learn and will use whatever is at their disposal to do so, proving this isn’t a matter of interest. We can see this in examples like the young man working with L4L who resorted to using a friend’s iPad to pursue college while he was raising funds for an L4L laptop. The generous Chick-fil-A donation finally jump-started his collegiate career in a way that he was not able to do on his own.