The Digital Divide In Education

Published on

By Siraj Akmal

From Northeastern University

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash


The COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented shift in the landscape of American education. With the abrupt closure of school buildings nationwide, the majority of students in the United States were thrust into the world of online learning. This sudden transformation illuminated a long-standing issue within our education system: technology disparities in U.S. public schools. Recognizing that education serves as the foundation for future opportunities and prospects, it becomes evident that a lack of accessible technology during one's formative years can have a significant effect on the trajectory of their life.

The incorporation of technology into U.S. education has marked a significant and transformative shift in the way students learn and teachers instruct. Recently, classrooms have evolved into dynamic spaces, where traditional teaching tools like chalkboards and textbooks have been replaced by digital devices, online resources, and interactive learning platforms. This enhanced educational experience and broadened access to information is great, but only if you can afford it.

What is Causing the Gap?

The technological barriers faced by students during the pandemic extend beyond mere device access. Limited access to reliable Wi-Fi emerged as a critical challenge, forcing some students to resort to unconventional solutions, such as sitting in local restaurants with free Wi-Fi to complete their school day. Moreover, disparities in the distribution of computers exacerbated the issue, with some schools failing to provide adequate devices for remote learning. In certain households, the presence of only one device further intensified the barriers to education. These challenges are not isolated; they are often intertwined with socioeconomic factors, highlighting a broader issue. The digital divide deepens as students from low-income families grapple not only with the absence of technological resources but also with the compounding effects of their economic status. Low income students are at high risk of falling behind, “with 60% of lower-income students receiving below-quality virtual instruction” (Bruce 2020). The digital divide is not just a technological dilemma; it is a manifestation of broader socioeconomic inequalities. We must address these multifaceted challenges collectively, recognizing that equitable access to education is a necessity as technology develops.

To contrast these low-income students are school districts like Livingston Public Schools in New Jersey. Livingston invested $1.5 million dollars, mostly coming from property tax, into more technology based education. In this town, all students “grades 7-12” are given “district-owned” computers that they keep for the entire school year (Livingston Public Schools). Even before covid, students enjoyed access to a variety of apps and online educational tools. It came with a Microsoft account, with a full workspace subscription. After this implementation, backpacks loaded with textbooks and notebooks were replaced by a single 13 inch laptop.

While schools like Livingston may seamlessly transition to virtual instruction with experienced teachers and more funding, those lacking funding for technology face substantial challenges, and students bear the brunt of the disparities.

The Effects

The enduring effects of technology disparities in education reach far beyond the immediate challenges faced by students. These disparities create a ripple effect, impacting students' future opportunities, career prospects, and life trajectory. During the time that classes were online, low-income students lost an alarming "12.4 months" of learning, double the amount of an average student (Bruce 2020). This statistic underscores the immense educational setback faced by students who lacked access to technology during the pandemic. Not only were they unable to keep up with the pace of learning, but they also fell significantly behind, creating a considerable learning gap.

This learning loss is not just a temporary setback; it can have repercussions that extend far into a student's academic future such as standardized testing. A critical component of college admissions, standardized testing, already presents high cost barriers. The fees associated with standardized tests, such as the SAT, amount to "47.50 for the basic test and $64.50 with the full essay” (Hess 2019). For students from low-income backgrounds, these costs can be prohibitive. Considering the already steep cost barriers associated with standardized testing, the added challenge for low-income students lies not only in the financial burden but also in the compounding effects of learning loss due to inadequate technology access. This highlights the need for both more equitable and accessible education .


The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a harsh wake-up call, shedding light on the persistent technology disparities in American education. It has shown us that access to technology is not a privilege but a fundamental necessity for a student's educational and professional journey. The research is abundantly clear that without any intrusion, this gap will only continue to grow. By addressing these disparities comprehensively, we can ensure that all students, regardless of their economic background, have an equal chance to succeed, and that education and effort can remain an equalizer.


“1:1 Initiative.” 1:1 Initiative / 1:1 Computing - It’s Coming, Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.

Bruce, Alyvia. “Bridging the Technological Divide in Education.” Harvardpolitics.Com, Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.

Herold, Benjamin. “Poor Students Face Digital Divide in How Teachers Learn to Use Tech.” Education Week, Education Week, 6 July 2021,

Hess, Abigail J. “Rich Students Get Better SAT Scores-Here’s Why.” CNBC, CNBC, 3 Oct. 2019,

Lissner, Caren. “Property Taxes in Livingston among 50 Highest in NJ.” Livingston, NJ Patch, Patch, 2 Mar. 2023,

“Understanding the Digital Divide in Education.” School of Education Online, 26 Oct. 2022,

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