A battle we can’t afford to lose

A revolution is taking place in many West Virginia public schools. Though education leaders have been laying the groundwork for it for several years, COVID-19 gets credit for accelerating the process.

Just last week, Ohio County Schools officials revealed that when they start the new academic year in September, all students will receive new “remote learning” equipment. Those in pre-kindergarten through second grade will be given ipads. Students in grades 3-12 will get Chromebooks.

Also this week, the Hancock County Board of Education agreed to purchase 3,000 iPads, to ensure every student in the county has one.

School systems in both counties, as well as others in our area, had been moving during the past few years toward universal access to digital devices. School closures due to the viral epidemic have expedited the process.

Computers and the internet have made disseminating information a light-speed process. Failing to take advantage of it in today’s world means falling behind.

It was inevitable, then, that schools — and students — would become reliant on the internet.

As so often is the case with technological revolutions, this one is occurring before all the infrastructure is in place. A significant number of homes lack reliable access to the internet.

Give local school officials credit for how some handled that during the early weeks of the COVID-19 epidemic. Some students unable to go online received homework packets physically. Some school systems used “mobile hotspots” to provide at least a little internet access in unserved areas.

But county school systems lack the resources to ensure every child with an iPad or Chromebook this fall can take full advantage of it. Those students will fall behind their classmates, if for some reason schools have to be closed again. Even if they are open, “unconnected” children will work at a disadvantage.

We in West Virginia — and throughout the nation, for that matter — for years have bemoaned gaps in the broadband network. State and federal leaders have vowed to do something about it.

Unless they find ways to actually do something decisive, this is a revolution that will leave many children behind.


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