Getting technology for remote work into hands of students a challenge – Digitalmunition




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Published on August 23rd, 2020 📆 | 4316 Views ⚑

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Getting technology for remote work into hands of students a challenge

A public-private effort to get computer tablets and internet connectivity in the hands of Detroit public school students is nearly fully funded.

Organizations including DTE Energy Co., the Skillman Foundation and Quicken Loans Inc. joined the Detroit Public Schools Community District in announcing a fundraising campaign in April to help students without laptops at home access school materials. It started after the pandemic put Detroit’s digital divide in the forefront of the minds of some of the city’s money-laden elite.

Nearly $20 million of $23 million had been raised as of Wednesday, Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told Crain’s. But the process of distributing those wireless internet-enabled iView brand tablets hasn’t been quite as successful. Approximately 50 percent of them have been handed out so far, Vitti said.

“For those parents that didn’t pick up their device, for whatever reason, we’re going to identify three days in late August for parents to come back … and obviously we’ll get to other students when the school year starts,” he said.

He added that he expects, by the time the school year starts Sept. 8, 80 percent-85 percent will have been given out. Getting the tablets isn’t the first priority for all families, he said, who may be struggling during the pandemic. As of June, an estimated 45 percent of Detroit residents were unemployed, a University of Michigan survey found.

Once the iView tablets came in, the district had to unpack them and code them for individual students so they could activate the internet, Vitti said. Volunteers and school district staff have been distributing them, offering a couple of dates per school for parents to come, show identification and receive the tablet.

“For a district like ours, with all the challenges we face and the criticism that we often face, we have received just about none when it comes to the deployment process,” he said.

The district said in April that just 10 percent-20 percent of families had been able to consistently access the internet or an internet-connected device at home to video chat with teachers or use online learning tools after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed down schools to help stem the coronavirus’ spread.

The public-private investment funds internet connectivity through the tablets for six months. After that, students could be “transitioned to a low-cost, hard-wired connection,” a news release said at the time. Those with need could get their internet funded longer by the district.

DPSCD will be financially responsible for sustaining the tablet program after this initial give-away, as well as reinvesting in older devices so they can be used again. The district contracted with Long Beach, Calif.-based nonprofit Human IT to provide customer service to the laptop-acquiring families for free, and help refurbish older laptops. The district also selected T-Mobile to provide the first six months of hotspot internet access.

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