A photo of two girls so desperate for internet access to do online schoolwork that they sat outside a California Taco Bell fast food restaurant to use their WiFi has spotlighted educational disparity caused by the “digital divide.” The image of the children, whose faces were covered with heart-shaped graphics to protect their identities, caught fire on social media after being shared on Twitter by state Senator Kevin de Leon.
The girls sat cross-legged on a concrete walkway using small laptop devices as Taco Bell workers wearing face masks gaze at them. The restaurant is in the agricultural community of Salinas, not far from Silicon Valley.
“Two students sit outside a Taco Bell to use WiFi so they can ‘go to school’ online,” de Leon said in the tweet last week. “This is California, home to Silicon Valley… but where the digital divide is as deep as ever.”
He added that 40 percent of Latinos in the state lack internet access, saying the school-aged generation deserves better. In reply to an AFP inquiry, Taco Bell said the scene was a “tough reminder of basic inequalities facing our communities” and that the owner of the Salinas restaurant was looking into more ways to support students.
After seeing the Twitter post last week, Salinas school district officials provided the family with a portable wifi device, according to spokesman Richard Gebin. The district is awaiting delivery of 2,500 more “hotspots” to give to families, it told AFP.
“This is a huge step in bridging the digital divide in our school community,” Gebin said. “Our district has been doing everything we can to reach out to our families, in regards to, technology.”
A GoFundMe campaign started by a local woman to help the two schoolgirls and their family had raised more than $145,000 as of late Thursday. “No kid should struggle to get educated,” a donor identified as Jose Espinal said. “All they need to be worrying about is to learn, the system and society should provide the rest, we are failing to our younger generations people.”