ALBANY, N.Y, (WWTI) — The New York State Education Department has identified priority areas to make progress towards statewide digital equity.

On Monday, New York State Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa released the Department’s report, “Achieving Digital Equity in New York: An Outline for Collaborative Change,” which compiles and lists priorities that were identified during previous Digital Equity Summits this year.

Two Digital Equity Summits were held by the New York State Board of Regents and the State Education Department to identify points made in the report and create a shared understanding.

These summits included a wide range of stakeholders and experts representing education, government, business, and community organizations. NYSED stated that based on conversations with stakeholders and experts, the Department identified three priority areas for change. These areas are:

  • Make digital inclusion a state level priority
  • Create and sustain thriving digital equity ecosystems across New York State
  • Achieve a digital justice mindset

According to NYSED Commissioner Rosa and New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young, digital inequities were emphasized more during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the disproportionately harmful effects of digital inequity in terms of health, employment, and education on people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged, as well as the need for a digital justice movement that incorporates community-driven networking solutions,” stated Chancellor Young. “We must seize this tremendous opportunity to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion with significant investments and policies implemented at the federal, state, and local levels to increase the availability and affordability of internet service.”

Commissioner Rosa added, “It is imperative that we do everything possible to ensure that New York’s children have equal opportunities to connect and receive a meaningful education. The work to achieve meaningful progress toward digital equity must be inclusive and requires input and effort from many sectors, including education, local and state government, and business. We must also include our young people, who are the stewards of technology and innovation.”

Regarding the priority that includes making digital inclusion a state priority, NYSED elaborated on its definition of digital inclusion, which lists five elements:

  • Affordable, robust broadband internet service
  • Internet-enabled devices that meet the need of the user
  • Access to digital fluency training
  • Quality technical support
  • Applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation, and collaboration

NYSED stated that its report determined that until now, that the state’s investment “in and attention to broadband access have not been accompanied by a proportional investment in digital inclusion efforts to improve broadband adoption.”

NYSED’s digital equity surveys found that residents across the state do not have access to the internet in their place of residence and cost remains a significant barrier.

Additionally, regarding a shit from digital equity to digital justice, NYSED claimed that the root causes of such inequity “cannot be separated from the root of racism, opportunity gaps and other systems of oppression.” NYSED outlined what progress could allow:

  • Create systems for community empowerment
  • Design digital equity solutions to achieve racial justice
  • Center people typically excluded from online participation due to race, income, disability, language, sexuality, geography, or other barriers in digital equity planning and solution implementation. 

The State Department of Education then listed the next steps. This includes using federal stimulus money to promote federal digital equity programs, expand goals outlined in the report and develop a digital equity plan for the Department. NYSED will also host a third and final Digital Equity Summit on June 15, 2021, and will focus on these issues in P-12 education.