Stating the Obvious

Closing the ever-gaping digital divide with a little bit of help.

GUEST COLUMN | by Steve Lee

edtechdigest guest column by Steve Lee CSMISometimes we need to state the obvious in order to effectively demonstrate how bad things are for some segments of society. So, it is pretty obvious that just to keep pace in modern society requires regular access to the Internet and supportive digital technologies. If you’re reading this you no doubt have access.

That’s not the way it is in our nation’s poor communities where broadband access to the Internet hovers around 10 to 20 percent of residents. This has serious implications for education. While urban and suburban schools, public and private, in middle and upper income neighborhoods, have become fully integrated with the Internet and are replete with smart boards and other classroom technologies, schools in poor neighborhoods are being denied what have become basic tools for a 21st century education. It puts students in these schools at an overwhelming disadvantage.

Our mission at CSMI, an education management company, is to empower students to be lifelong learners. However, I can’t imagine bringing students through our schools without the technological foundation necessary to keep pace and compete in today’s society. What chance does a student have without it? At Chester Community Charter School we are closing that ever gaping digital divide by providing students in grades three through eight with laptop computers as well as smart boards in the classrooms. This investment in students does not come out of the school’s budget, which is publicly funded. It comes from private donations. In today’s world corporate and foundation support for technology is critical if students at schools in poor neighborhoods are to have hope of a better education and access to the technology necessary for them to be successful.

The recently announced Camden Community Charter School to be managed by CSMI is a prime example. First, a little background. Camden is the worst performing school district in New Jersey. In fact, last month Governor Christie announced that the state would be taking over the Camden school district. In mapping out our plan for the new school, we realized immediately that to emulate the success we’ve had in Chester; technology would have to be a critical component. But modern technology comes with costs.

In Chester, our school is able to meet the technology challenge through private donations, principally from the Vahan and Danielle Gureghian Foundation. (Vahan Gureghian is CEO of CSMI.) The donations enable the school to provide laptop computers to all students in grades 3-8 and the purchase of smart boards for use in classrooms. We realized the same technology needs exist in Camden and our plan is to bring the same types of technology into the Camden Community Charter School.

With the Gureghian Foundation already on board, a new opportunity emerged from one of Philadelphia’s homegrown companies, Comcast. Comcast has a program called Internet Essentials where qualified families can get low-cost broadband service for $9.95 a month and can buy an Internet-ready computer for under $150. Combined with a donation from the Gureghian Foundation it means that all students in Camden Community Charter School will have free computers and free in-home access to the Internet.

Student success in the 21st century depends on access to modern technology, and the ability of schools in poor neighborhoods to provide that technology is heavily dependent on investments from the private sector. This important partnership between the private sector and public education is critical in helping to prepare tomorrow’s workforce to compete on an increasingly competitive global stage.

Private donations and partnerships like these with private sector companies can help struggling schools keep pace in the digital age.

Steven Lee is Executive Vice President/Chief Academic Officer of CSMI, the education manager of Chester Community Charter School and the newly announced Camden Community Charter School.

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