This week, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced the kickoff for the “California Digital Divide Innovation Challenge,” a global competition that will award up to $1 million to the boldest, most revolutionary proposals to eliminate the digital divide and expand high-speed internet access to all Californians.
Despite many efforts and generous donations through the Bridging the Digital Divide Fund, as many as one million students in California still lack internet connectivity. Superintendent Thurmond is launching this challenge to inspire the public and private sector’s most ambitious innovators, researchers, entrepreneurs, and creative problem-solvers to develop technology and strategic partnerships that will have an immediate and direct impact on students today and remove barriers to success long after the pandemic is over.
“As you know, the digital divide has existed for decades, but with the onset of the pandemic, a glaring spotlight once again highlighted the inequities on who is connected and who is not,” Thurmond said. “Over the past year, we have been able to get devices in the hands of most of our students, yet we continue to have hundreds of thousands of students who still have no connectivity or connectivity that is insufficient for them to successfully continue their education from home. We have entire communities unable to participate in tele-health, e-commerce, email, and the daily activities we take for granted. We believe access to the internet has become as essential as water and electricity, and we won’t stop until it flows just as easily.”
Thanks to a partnership with Genentech and the Genentech Foundation; the General Motors Foundation; and Gary K. Michelson, founder and co-chair of Michelson Philanthropies and the Michelson 20MM Foundation, this competition will allow the innovative spirit to play a significant role in helping California end the digital divide once and for all.
Although many efforts have been made to help students gain internet connectivity and computing devices while in distance learning, the harsh reality is that almost one-fifth of California’s students still cannot participate in distance learning. Whether caused by lack of rural and frontier infrastructure or lack of urban affordability, one thing is clear: Every student deserves the opportunity to learn with equitable access to computing devices and connectivity.
The digital divide impacts our students of color and low-income students at disproportionate rates:
– 25 percent of African American students and their families do not have access to the internet, and 13 percent do not have access to computers.
– 21 percent of Hispanic or Latino students do not have access to the internet, and 9 percent do not have access to computers.
– 30 percent of American Indian students do not have access to the internet, and 16 percent do not have access to computers.
– 14 percent of White students do not have access to the internet, and 7 percent do not have access to computers.
Before the pandemic, the lack of access to internet and computing devices for these students disproportionately affected their ability to continue their education from home, hampering their ability to complete homework, research, and prepare for future career opportunities. The pandemic has only amplified the need to solve this problem once and for all so that all students have an equitable opportunity to be successful in their K–12 education.
Requests for information (RFI) are being accepted until the end of this week, with the challenge officially running from March–August 2021. If you are interested in participating in the challenge as an innovator, you must submit an RFI by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, March 5, 2021. You can access the RFI form here: https://forms.gle/JNkEZkk52a2ocnsU7.
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