North Carolina Partners With Educational Institutions To Close Digital Divide

North Carolina

“We are looking to ensure that 100 percent of households with children subscribe to high-speed internet.”

Michael D. Melero North Carolina Partners With Educational Institutions To Close Digital Divide Screenshot of North Carolina Broadband Director Maggie Woods at the Power of Partnership webinar on June 12

June 13, 2024 – North Carolina Office of Digital Equity and Literacyis leading state efforts to close the digital divide through an interagency grant program that develops and expands digital equity and inclusion initiatives by partnering with educational institutions.

The program, funded by State Rescue Plan Act allocations, selected 11 grantees, including three major anchor institutions such as the North Carolina Community College System. The money will focus on funding digital education and enhancing digital equity efforts across the state. 

As part of the initiative, North Carolina Business Committee on Education is expanding what it calls tech teams, groups of high school students who are being trained and then paid to provide tech support to their K-12 school community and then the broader community. 

“If people are having trouble logging into online school systems, they can call up a number and they can get in touch with a high school student trained to support them. So it’s both a digital inclusion strategy and it’s also a workforce development strategy, job strategy,” said North Carolina’s Office of Digital Equity and Literacy Deputy Director Maggie Woods. 

Woods emphasized that digital equity is critical for education and to meet 100 percent of households with children to high-speed internet access. 

In a partnership with the North Carolina Division of Adult Correction Education Services Department, the initiative seeks to ensure that all prison facilities run by the state have smart classrooms, are equipped with laptops, and provide digital literacy training to inmates. This preparation equips inmates with the digital skills they need to succeed in society as they leave prison and re-enter the community, said Woods.

The office also partnered with East Carolina University to pilot an innovative model incorporating healthcare navigators and digital navigation.

“We have five key strategies. All of them have education partners integrated into those strategies,” Woods said. North Carolina Office of Digital Equity and Literacy Deputy published its five key strategies to address barriers and meet the needs for reliable internet, in collaboration with education partners, aim to ensure North Carolinians have access to high-speed internet. 

The first strategy focuses on providing affordable, low-cost internet services in the state, a key goal of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, as Woods explained. The second strategy promotes practices that support online accessibility and inclusivity of public resources and services, including school systems.

“One of the things we heard repeatedly in listening sessions, particularly from non-native English speakers, is the need to connect with the school system and the struggle to do so because of language barriers,” said Woods, referring to the second strategy to ensure that online content is accessible for everyone.  

The third strategy ensures North Carolinians acquire digital skills to meet personal and workforce needs, developing standards for digital literacy and navigation, and integrating them into programs and schools; the fourth strategy promotes practices and tools for online privacy and security; the fifth strategy ensures access to digital devices.