California city offers a digital divide success story

Jean J. Sanders


After schools went remote in 2020, Jessica Ramos spent hours that spring and summer sitting on a bench in front of her local Oakland Public Library branch in the vibrant and diverse Dimond District. Ms. Ramos would connect to the library’s Wi-Fi – sometimes on her cellphone, sometimes using her family’s only laptop – to complete assignments and submit essays or tests for her classes at Skyline High School.

Ms. Ramos, used to texting quickly, was able to do simple assignments online, so at first her schoolwork was very easy. Then came the five-page papers for her two AP classes. “It was a hassle,” she says.

“We have this huge digital divide that’s making it hard for [students] to get their education,” she says.

Why We Wrote This

Recent success in closing the digital divide in Oakland, California, schools suggests what a partnership approach can achieve.

At the start of the pandemic, only 12% of low-income students, and 25% of all students, in Oakland’s public schools had devices at home and a strong internet connection. David Silver, the director of education for the mayor’s office, says people talked about the digital divide, but there had never been enough energy to tackle it. Once the pandemic hit, suddenly everyone was paying attention, says Mr. Silver, a former Oakland public school teacher and principal.

“You don’t have a computer, you don’t have internet, you can’t even access distance learning,” Mr. Silver says. “The 50,000 kids that are in Oakland public schools cannot actually go to school if they don’t have internet and computers. We need to change that.”

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