- The pandemic has made kids rely on technology for their education more than ever before.
- And in a recent poll, 76% of parents say that their kids are learning at least part-time online.
I'm teaching for the first time since the pandemic started, it's definitely been a challenge to think about how to make an online classroom feel engaging and active.
- I'm a high school teacher and my school has decided to go completely virtual.
I'm nervous for what lies ahead.
- Everything that is wonderful about teaching has been just stolen from us.
(laughs) - The hard part about all of this has to be connecting with them.
As hard it is as in person, imagine doing it through a screen.
- [Danielle] Many students could be left behind because they lack easy access to the internet.
And so they face slipping into the cracks of something known as the digital divide.
(soft upbeat music) (chiming bells) - We've always had a digital divide of sorts, even if you go back to the late 90s or early 2000s, there was already kind of a divide between the haves and the have-nots.
- [Ali] Sal Khan is a founder and CEO of Khan Academy.
A non-profit educational organization that offers free lessons in math, science, and humanities all online.
- [Tutor] In this video, we're gonna talk about shapes.
- [Danielle] And they've been doing distance learning of sorts for free since they started in 2008.
- What COVID has put a huge spotlight on is there's a massive digital divide still going on at homes.
About 30% of American families don't really have a high quality internet access with a reasonable device.
- In addition to how traumatic being in a pandemic is, we also are tasked with having our students be online.
They need to have internet that connects, and sometimes they just don't have these things.
- Even though they have the technology, some of them don't know how to use it.
- We have poor internet so it takes us longer to do our work.
I feel kinda frustrated a little bit.
- [Ali] The effected communities tend to be more rural and less white.
- Native and Indigenous Americans lack broadband access at a rate four times that of the general population.
(chiming bells) - My name is Cornelia Yellowman.
I live in Montezuma Creek, Utah, a small place off of the Navajo Reservation.
I am a mother of two girls; one is four and the other one is two.
My family, I would say we love one another to the moon and back.
Here we are on a ride.
Kylie, Kenzie's riding with her dad.
This is one of our life teachings that we wanna pass on to our kids.
We're proud to be Navajo.
Diné is what we call ourselves.
Growing up on the Navajo Reservation has its struggles.
I'm at work right now because we have no Wi-Fi internet at home.
I know the world is basically going electronic and it's kind of hard for Native Americans as myself.
We live next to a gas plant and they have phone lines there, but they cannot extend it out to where we live because of the gas pipelines.
- [Ali] The pipeline also prevents them from having running water.
- Where are we going?
- We're going to get water.
- This says do not drink, but all we do is use this for livestock.
- [Danielle] While they found a way to get water to their livestock, getting internet access has proved a trickier problem to solve.
- Living offline has also put Cornelia more at risk during the pandemic.
- My work actually transitioned into working from home if you had good internet service, but for me, I didn't have that option.
So I could have been exposed just being here at work.
- [Danielle] While Cornelia has to go in person to her job, her daughter has been struggling to make remote preschool work.
- How old are you Kylie?
- My daughter Kylie would have been starting her second year at preschool.
- She wants to go back to school but right now we tell her, you know, you can't go to school, there's people sick and stuff.
And she just says, "Well, I'll wear my mask."
What color is this?
- I don't know.
- How about this one?
- I'm worried about my kids' future just like any mom would be.
I do not want my kids growing up the way I grew up.
I grew up with bullying because I didn't know anything about the internet.
I didn't have access to that growing up.
It's kind of hard to express how we feel.
- [Ali] Cornelia is right to be worried because the education Kylie gets now, could have an effect on the rest of her life.
- I think it's well-documented that educational disparities start around two or three years old, maybe even earlier, but there are new skills that all folks really should have for the world that we live in.
One of them is digital literacy.
- I want Kylie to broaden her mind, her horizon.
I have big dreams for Kylie.
She told me that she would like to be a doctor.
So I have that hope for her.
- [Danielle] Cornelia is also currently trying to finish a degree herself.
- I'm going back to school for my Associates, for Business Management and everything is online now.
- [Ali] Because she can't get connected at home, she's often trying to complete her coursework in the parking lot of her job, where she has a reliable internet connection.
- Sometimes I'm here at midnight.
There'd be people, but still it's kinda of scary for a Native American woman to be sitting out in the parking lot by herself.
I feel isolated all the time because it's more late hours being away from my family.
- The immediate cost to close the digital divide for minority kids is an estimated $7 billion.
That's steep, but it's also less than 1% of our National Defense budget.
- If there's a silver lining during COVID, we've seen more energy around the digital divide issue than I've ever seen.
We've seen philanthropists, school districts, corporations do really heroic efforts of getting folks access, but it still hasn't been nationwide, systemic.
- In the summer of 2020, one non-profit called Waterford.org, worked with the Navajo Nation to offer families in the region, free laptops and internet hotspots.
- We are getting a laptop and we are getting internet.
That's gonna be a big change for my family.
(gasps) (soft upbeat music) You got me here at home I'm sitting at my computer.
We've had internet for about three months.
Kylie can do her homework and her ABCs is coming along.
K. - Hopefully in the near future, other American students and educators will be able to overcome the digital divide.
- Unfortunately, I think we're gonna feel the repercussions of the pandemic for a very, very long time.
You're going to see this generation of students, they're gonna have higher dropout rates, even lower test scores.
- This just brings to light a lot of the inequities that we have in our society right now.
- I'm hoping that in the future, we make this access to digital technology easier for everyone so that it's not such a punch in the face, if something like this happens again.
- While it's been exhausting and it's crazy busy, being with the kids like always, is why I get up in the mornings and why I'm a teacher.
- In the early days of the internet, everyone viewed the internet as a nice-to-have.
It's more and more becoming what I would categorize as a necessary human right.
- Our life is going to change a lot.
Words cannot explain how happy I am.
It just opens every door that we've been struggling with.
♪ Know my A,B,Cs ♪ (giggles) (laughing) - [Cornelia] Good job.
- PBS American Portrait is a nationwide storytelling project.
A chance to be seen, heard, and to give a glimpse into your own life.
Share yours at pbs.org/americanportrait And starting January 5th, be sure to watch PBS American Portrait; A Series Made by You on the PBS YouTube channel, PBS video app or your local PBS station.