Georgetown students work to close the digital divide across DC public schools

William Macci (L’24) and Sparsha Muralidhara (G’23) won the 2023 Georgetown Public Policy Challenge grand prize for their proposal, E-QualityDC, which aims to close the digital divide for students across Washington, DC, public schools.

According to the 2018 American Community Survey for All4Ed, 20% of DC students lacked access to high-speed internet—a problem that disproportionately affects low-income students, making it difficult for them to complete work and succeed academically. Moreover, DC has the second-highest racial digital-access gap in the country.

E-QualityDC was one of five teams chosen as finalists in this year’s Policy Challenge. All five finalist teams received a $1,500 scholarship prize, with the winning team awarded a grand total scholarship prize of $3,000. The Challenge, now in its ninth year, brings together graduate students from all academic disciplines to develop innovative policy solutions for a wide range of issues facing the DC area.

Narrowing the digital access gap

Remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the digital divide across the country and how it separated households with access to technology and the internet from those with limited or no access. The federal government has been working to provide discounts on broadband internet service and connected devices, with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act including $65 billion to expand broadband access.

To facilitate access locally, Macci and Muralidhara focused their proposal on empowering schools to improve and expand child digital literacy. They focused on stakeholders who are “noncontroversial anchors of a community and important initiators for change,” in hopes of generating bipartisan support from policymakers.

“There had been attempts to solve this problem, but at each iteration, something had fallen through,” said Muralidhara. “This issue was our jumping-off point; we saw what had impeded previous efforts, but we knew that school districts across the nation had successfully narrowed this gap before.”

“We know there are big roadblocks ahead,” said Macci. “The Challenge allows students to look past these and come up with ideas that are innovative—and then work to address some of those roadblocks at the local, state, and federal levels.”

In the months ahead, Macci and Muralidhara hope to connect with local elected officials about implementing their proposal and plan to scale up E-QualityDC’s mission. “The possibilities for future expansion of the program are endless,” said Muralidhara.

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