Danny Peralta of The Point CDC holds up a portable network kit.

A failing grade for technology equality

As a light drizzle fell outside Fordham plaza on a Monday afternoon in October, a high school student approached a podium to address the crowd.

“We’re fighting from our graves to tell you we’ve always been invisible,” said Lucky Islam, a DreamYard Preparatory Academy student. “I want you to listen carefully. The technology and educational disparities in the Bronx have always been a reality for low-income communities. It wasn’t until a pandemic that these issues were being brought to light.”

Islam was speaking at The Tech Equality Day of Action conference which highlighted disparities between Bronx schools and those in the rest of the city through comments from politicians, community organizers, parent advocates and students.

“We see that the school system, the DOE, and the city has earned a failing grade in how they’ve been able to give our children and families computers, laptops and tech assistance,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “While we have over 200,000 students here in the Bronx alone, they’ve only issued about 84,000 devices. That’s less than 50 percent.”

The Department of Education promised to provide a device to every family that requests one in the coming months. It has admitted issues keeping up with demand for devices and pointed to the increased nationwide demand as the cause of the problem.

“We happen to be the largest school system in America,” New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said at a City Council Committee meeting in October. “But we’re not the only school system that is ordering devices from all of the manufacturers. So there is a definite supply chain issue.”

In August, Lenovo, Hewlett Packard and Dell announced a shortage of nearly 5 million laptops and said that school districts should expect delays in delivery.

The education department recently announced they would be receiving 100,000 additional iPads in November. Diaz, however, says the Bronx technology divide is nothing new and should have been dealt with far earlier.

“We should have been addressing this over a decade ago,” Diaz said.

Even those who received DOE-provided technology have found issues with the devices.

“They gave me a laptop from the DOE with a broken cable,” Islam said, “It’s not enough to say I’m gonna give y’all laptops and y’all figure it out.”

Greg Wilkinson ended up buying a new laptop for his daughter, a student at Health Opportunities High School.

“The iPad the school sent was terrible,” Wilkinson said, “There was no prep. No training for it. Just ‘Hey, here’s some computers, do what you can.’”

Along with devices, internet access is also a major issue in the Bronx. According to data from Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, in Mott Haven and Hunts Point, nearly a quarter of all households are without internet access, leaving them tied for fifth most in New York City.

The Point CDC took on this problem in 2017 with the Free Hunts Point WIFI project. By installing portable network kits around the neighborhood, The Point has helped 600 people get free internet connection.

“We have to continue not only giving access to young people, but also giving them the tools to build the internet,” Danny Peralta, Executive Managing Director at the Point said, We can’t keep plugging into systems that don’t really care about our families.”

Diaz stressed that the elected officials rather than residents should be the ones to resolve the technology and Internet issues.

“We know who the culprits are,” said Diaz. “It is the mayor and the DOE.”

“The DOE and the city have earned a failing grade.” Learn why Borough President Diaz thinks the mayor has failed to provide technology equity in the Bronx.