Digital Equity: Funding Technology in Catholic Schools

The following article was contributed by Ann Oro, Director of K12 Instructional Technology in the Archdiocese of Newark.

Some may think that the concept of digital equity is only an issue for students in lower economic schools and rural areas, yet it can manifest itself in any Catholic school.

Digital equity is defined as equal access and opportunity to digital tools, resources, and services to increase digital knowledge, awareness, and skills (ERIC Number: ED497214).

An important part of our mission is to provide students with access to technology and prepare them for post-secondary life. One college freshman returned to visit her former high school and told a new principal that she was the top of the class in high school. When the student started her freshman year in college she felt unprepared. Other college students knew how to use learning management systems, their cell phone to create work groups, perform online research, and respond appropriately to emails. This student spent the better part of freshman year just catching up. There is an assumption that our students are all naturals at using technology. They can use devices, but not necessarily for the purpose of learning and collaborating.

With access to appropriate technology, teachers can provide many forms of support for our exceptional learners in elementary and secondary classrooms. The ability to access educational content through speech-to-text tools, modifying screen displays, customized practice, and the ability to differentiate the ways students can show what they know can be supported with a variety of tools.

We have to be aware of becoming bogged down in an impoverished mentality and invest in technology. In Called & Chosen: Toward a Spirituality for Lay Leaders by Zeni Fox and Reginal Bechtle, S.C., a story is related in which St. Francis of Assisi hears a voice while praying in the chapel saying “repair my church.” At first, he takes the command literally and eventually grasps “his mission to preach the good news to the poor.” (p. 7) Your school may need to take the command literally by creating a school technology plan and searching for funding. Erate can be a cumbersome process. It can provide a rebate on improving the wiring and equipment needed to provide Internet access throughout the school. The consulting process under ESSA opens a variety of opportunities under the new Title IV: 21st Century Schools. This can include the purchase of software and online site licenses paired with technology coaching.

Catholic schools have a great opportunity to go above and beyond what students in public schools do with technology because of our flexibility. In addition, we are sharing Gospel values and faith connections with our students in their digital world. Consider how you can support your students thinking by having them discuss how respecting parent’s wishes in how and when technology is used as part of honoring their father and mother. Through collaboration, students explore the virtue of justice and being fair to others in respecting everyone’s contributions. In digital communication students consider the virtue of temperance/self-control. Take time, during the summer, to consider how you can assist your students and teachers by supporting the purchase of technology to help them show what they know with digital tools.