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Elegir entre llenar la nevera o pagar la factura de Internet, el dilema de muchas familias latinx. Photo: CNBC.
Choosing between filling up the fridge or paying the Internet bill is a dilemma of many Latinx families. Photo: CNBC.

The great myth of virtual education and how it affects Latinx children

About 4.5 million Americans with school-age kids don't have access to a computer, or even the Internet. This is the case in a country home to Silicon Valley.

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If there's one thing about the gaps, unless you do something about them, they will always get bigger and bigger. We've seen it with the gender gap in the United States, but also, and as ironic as it may seem in the homeland of Google, Facebook in Silicon Valley, with the digital gap. 

It's a problem that in times of COVID and the threat of new confinements and greater social distance to avoid risks, has made virtual education no longer an alternative, but a luxury and necessity that widens and widens between the elite and those who have less.

According to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by USAFacts, nearly 4.5 million U.S. households with school-age children did not have access to a computer as of Sept. 28, and 3.7 million did not have access to the Internet either.

In addition, educators are concerned that the economic consequences of the crisis will make families choose between filling up the fridge, and paying for an Internet connection, causing educational disparities to continue growing into the uncertain coronavirus future. 

However, philanthropists like Olympic skater Kristi Yamaguchi are struggling to improve literacy among Latinx and Asian-American children in places like California, Arizona and Hawaii. On the bright side, she's having quite a bit of success in her endeavor.

As the athlete explained in an interview with NBC Latino, her nonprofit organization, Always Dream Foundation, has increased the time children spend reading by up to 20%, and is putting all the meat on the table to improve access to distance education for poorer families. 

"It's sad that we live in a high-tech digital world, and there are still communities that don't have Internet access at home".

"I have a fairly flexible work schedule and can control my children. But there are parents who work and have to juggle getting the kids home, but they can't sit alone in front of the computer all day. Or they may not even have access to Wi-Fi," said Yamaguchi.

"This shows the great digital divide that our country is still struggling with. It's sad that we live in a high-tech digital world, particularly in the Bay Area in the middle of Silicon Valley, and there are still communities that don't have Internet access at home," she added. 

Yamaguchi's organization works with schools and provides students with tablets and Internet access through a mobile data plan. In addition, they have taken advantage of the pandemic to further adapt their programs to online learning, with virtual counselors and using tools like Facebook Live to read stories twice a week.

Literacy, an urgent task

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 21% of American adults between the ages of 16 and 65 are illiterate. While the National Institute of Literacy and the Department of Education provide even more serious data, like that half of the nation's citizens are barely able to read a book written for eighth graders, or that 32 million adults are unable to read at all. 

California, which is one of the states with the largest Latinx population, is also the least literate state in the country, according to statistics. Always Dream works to get books to families in a bilingual format because 35% of the people they target are Spanish speakers. 

If the health of a country's democracy and the level of economic and social development are inseparable from the education of its population, reducing the digital divide is one of the most urgent issues any government concerned about the future of its citizenry — and not just an elite — should have on its agenda. 

No one knows how long the pandemic will last, and by then the economic and social damage may be irreparable.  

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