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Philadelphia Extends PHLConnectED, Digital Skill-Building

The City of Philadelphia has announced that PHLConnectED will continue until July 2023 to provide pre-K–12 families with free internet access and has selected grantees to encourage the development of digital skills among pre-K–12 caregivers. PHLConnectED is the city’s initiative to provide free and reliable internet access and is one of the key priorities for sustaining crucial digital equity programmes of the Philadelphia Digital Equity Plan.

The programme in its third year will focus on two key priorities: continuing to connect Philadelphia pre-K–12 families in need to free internet access through Comcast’s Internet Essentials or a T-Mobile hotspot and providing resources for digital skill-building.

To date, PHLConnectED has enabled more than 21,000 internet connections, facilitating educational opportunities and access to valuable information for students and their families. We encourage families and residents in need of internet access to dial 2-1-1 so we can help them overcome the digital divide

– Jim Kenney, Mayor, City of Philadelphia

In its start in the summer of 2020, PHLConnectED prioritised providing free internet connection for students to engage in online learning during the pandemic. The city recognises that internet connection is crucial for students to participate in their education, regardless of their location.

However, having access to devices and the internet is insufficient. People must understand how to use them. Digital literacy is the ability to use digital technology for living, learning, and working. The epidemic underlined the need for caregivers to possess digital skills in order to assist their pupils in school.

The focus of PHLConnectED’s digital skill-building efforts is on pre-K–12 educators in an effort to close the homework gap and strengthen educational assistance for kids. With this in mind, two grants were launched to fund organisations to help caregivers build their digital skills.

The Caregiver Digital Literacy Initiative Grant required organisations to construct a regular schedule of digital skills sessions for any pre-K–12 caregivers or family members to improve their skills to better support their kids.

The School-Based Caregiver Digital Supports Grant provides funds for school-based programmes that assist caregivers in gaining a better understanding of and proficiency with regularly used digital technologies within the school community.

As dependable communicators and easily accessible resources for caregivers, schools and community-based organisations are essential to the work of PHLConnectED in Philadelphia. The city agreed that schools and community organisations can provide people with the digital literacy skills they need to support their children’s education, communicate with schools, and participate actively in their education.

While Philadelphia has been working on digital equity for more than fifteen years, the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated additional resources and a thorough strategic plan. Through working from home, virtual learning, telehealth, and other applications, technology became an integral component of daily life for residents. 

In the next five years, the Digital Equity Plan aims to assist Philadelphia to achieve a baseline level of digital equity. Internet access, digital devices, and digital literacy are the three pillars of digital equity.

Philadelphia will continue to promote digital equity as part of its digital equity efforts. Three specific targets that will help the city achieve its objectives are 1) Funding programmes in Philadelphia that promote digital equity, such as PHLConnectED, Digital Navigators, public computing facilities, and digital literacy classes; 2) Engaging with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania regarding Philadelphia’s digital equality needs, particularly in terms of federal funding distribution; and 3) Forming public-private partnerships that encourage businesses and organisations to participate in digital equity and showcasing how bridging the digital divide would benefit the entire city of Philadelphia.

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