Statistics about American internet access can be shocking. And that was before the pandemic.
Up to 21 million Americans lacked reliable internet in 2019, according to FCC reporting. Research from Microsoft showed as many as 162 million Americans did not have the fast broadband connectivity needed to work or go to school at home as of late last year.
According to a nationwide teacher survey released this May, only 24% of all students had access to a computer or tablet for remote learning. And only 6% of students reported having a family member or guardian at home to help navigate e-learning.
The “Digital Divide” as it is called, cuts through both rural areas and low-income urban areas, making it a very real part of American life. And COVID-related school closures showcased how the Digital Divide is impacting school-age children disproportionately.
Distance learning requires not only a home computer, but also video conferencing software, stable WiFi and a quiet place to work. These often are not possible for students in lower income or underfunded school districts, meaning that more kids risk falling behind as online classes become the norm this fall semester.
Stratix, a logistics and mobile technology company out of Peachtree Corners, launched its SmartMobile Education Technology (SET) Program for students to get crucial learning devices and laptops. Stratix works with school districts to make sure each device is delivered with class-appropriate software so students can begin learning from their device right out of the box.
With their new partnership with Bark Technologies, these devices will now be protected and monitored.
Bark’s platform “helps schools partner with parents,” Matt McKee told Hypepotamus. Parents and guardians can monitor a student’s digital life and receive alerts around potentially dangerous behavior such as suicidal ideation or cyberbullying on school-run accounts.
Bark’s ability to monitor a student’s online digital use, along with Stratix’s capacity to ship and maintain physical devices, focuses on the entire digital life of a student. Both companies are committed to “making sure [students] are prepared to be successful, and to make sure they are safe,” Alterman told Hypepotamus.
“We see the need across the whole country. There are 16 million kids who are digitally divided in some way or another, and 10 million of those don’t have a device,” said Alterman.
With their initial rollout in Detroit, 22,000 K-12 students who cannot afford a device will receive a Chromebook with all necessary software, G Suite for Education and carrier-activated hotspot. Each Chromebook will have Bark’s AI monitoring and filtering system to ensure students are safe online.
Stratix’s Atlanta-based help desk and repair shop will fix and provide device support should technical issues occur throughout the semester.
Such a partnership recognizes that students fall further behind without proper tools to connect to a digital classroom. But it also acknowledges that schools don’t just teach reading and mathematics; they often serve as a critical check for any mental health concerns, as teachers and administrators have eyes on a student throughout the day.
While Bark has been working in education for some time, Stratix pivoted into the space after realizing their core services – geared towards retailers who needed mobile devices for their workforce – could be used to help get more students online.
Detroit is the first public school system to work with Stratix and Bark, but both Alterman and McKee believe that districts across the country will benefit from their technology and services.