Did you know there are schools in the United States that have zero wifi access? None, nada, zilch. In a world where everything is done online, there are schools throughout the nation that do not have any kind of internet access whatsoever. If you're scratching your head wondering how this could be possible in the U.S., the documentary Without A Net: The Digital Divide In America explains exactly how this has become a reality. Elite Daily had the chance to speak with Zendaya about her involvement with the documentary and Verizon's #WeNeedMore campaign, and Zendaya's advice to young kids about their education will make you want to get up and do something about this divide.
Verizon's #WeNeedMore campaign is dedicated to bridging the digital divide in schools nationwide by providing the vital technology underprivileged schools need for their students in order for them to be able to keep up with the times. They teamed up with documentary filmmaker/Academy Award nominee Rory Kennedy (daughter of Robert F. Kennedy) to create Without A Net. Together, they're aiming to shed light on this technological crisis underprivileged schools in the U.S. are currently facing. (Yes, not having the proper tools to teach children how to succeed in the real world is a crisis.)
Zendaya had a front-row seat to this issue as the daughter of two educators growing up in California. Her father was a P.E. teacher and a coach at her private school, and her mother taught middle school and 5th grade at an underprivileged public school just one mile away from hers. She tells Elite Daily that while she was growing up, she constantly questioned why her school had so much, yet her mother's school had so little. The answer is funding. Zendaya says,
I grew up kind of facing that very obvious change. Going to my school, we had computer labs, and movement class, and music class, and I go to my mom’s school, and they have basics and nothing else. And I think that’s not fair. There should be no difference in education. I think every young person should have the same opportunities any other young person receives in this world. This is the age of technology, so how are we going to have schools that can experiment with code and build robots, but then another school doesn’t even have wifi? Does that make sense? It doesn’t make sense, that’s crazy.
She rightfully says it doesn't inspire kids to believe in themselves and their intelligence when they see that other schools have no issue learning to be digitally literate and they have to struggle to just get connected to the internet. She adds,
What are you telling these children when they see they don’t have the opportunity to even know that [technology-based careers] exist? If you can’t even get them computers, how are they supposed to know that coding is a thing, is a job opportunity? Or graphic design? It goes on and on and on. And if they don’t know it exists, then they’ll never be able to create a path for it. And that’s a job they’ll never be able to have. Why is that fair?
Without A Net, narrated by Jamie Foxx, is a powerful story that uses real-life examples of children who have to go to extraordinary lengths just to get their homework done. And it's not just a lack of wifi that affects these kids' education: having an internet connection is almost useless if you don't have the devices to connect them to. And that's where Without A Net begins. It follows the stories of an elementary school student who doesn't have a computer at home to complete her assignments on, a high school student whose Pennsylvania high school doesn't have enough computers for their students to work on, and a high school student whose rural Kentucky community is struggling to create a future for itself that doesn't solely rely on coal mining.
For one of the children featured in this documentary, a homework assignment that would take only 15 minutes on a computer takes her an hour. Amanda Acevedo is a student at P.S. 171 in Harlem. In the documentary, her teacher says she's very bright and "loves to learn," but her family can't afford a computer, so she ends up having to do her homework assignments on her mother's iPhone.
There's another school in California the documentary focuses on that was able to provide their students with the devices and internet they need at school, but a lot of the kids' families can't afford to have wifi at home, so their devices are rendered useless once they get home. This story is one that particularly stuck with Zendaya. She tells Elite Daily,
There’s this school that, because of their area, they don’t have wifi at home or ways to connect to the internet, so they put wifi on a bus and they parked the bus during the weekends [in neighborhoods where they know kids don’t have internet access at home]. And then the kids will come up to the bus and finish their homework and do things like that. That was really creative, and I hope we get to an era where kids won’t have to do that, won’t have to go to a bus to finish their homework — wifi will just be a thing that we have.
It's easy to take accessible internet and technology for granted, Zendaya says. So many of us are so used to walking into a building, a friend's place, our offices, etc., and instantly being able to connect to the internet. But there are children nationwide whose schools don't have the money to be able to provide them these things that have become the most baseline necessities in the digital era. Her advice to young students who are facing difficulties such as these? Be as proactive as you can. She tells Elite Daily,
Speak up about it and see if there’s creative ways that you can’t start making those changes in your school. I think sometimes young people have to demand what they need. And that’s at least what I’m trying to do, as well, is bring my voice into the situation because, again, it’s forgotten.
When it comes to fighting adversity in the Trump era, Zendaya wants us to focus on our nation's children. She explains,
Young people are the future. They are everything that’s going to go right with the world, so it’s important now that we cultivate their imagination, their brains. It’s so important to sink your teeth into the young people because that’s the only guarantee for a brighter future that we have, especially with everything that’s going on right now.
When asked why she believes this issue is so vital now, she says,
It’s now. It’s an issue now. And I don’t think the digital world is going to go anywhere; it’s only going to get stronger. Are you going to let these kids fall behind in a world that is purely digital, purely technological? Are we just going to forget that these children exist? This is the beginning of an era that will continue and get stronger, and it’s important we deal with it now. Young people have a very powerful voice right now. And I think it’s important that we use that in the right ways. I can say it a million times: Kids are the future. So what better way to assure a better future than to focus on the kids, focus on their education? It’s not even just good for them, it’s good for everyone.
Can't argue with that. You can watch the entire Without A Net documentary on DigitalDivide.com and YouTube.