Jul 06 2016

Bridging the Digital Divide

Innovative schools are working to turn things around for underserved students.

The Pew Research Center reports that about 80 percent of U.S. households with school-age children have Internet access. That’s great, except it also means that one in five still don’t.

As teachers assign homework that requires web access, students who lack an Internet connection at home will fall further behind. By bridging the digital divide, students can have the access they need to work. It’s the right thing to do.

“The civil rights issue of today is really around broadband access away from school,” says Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking. “Teachers expect that kids outside of school can do their homework on a broadband connection.”

The equity issues cut across all types of school districts, from rural areas to the inner cities and even some suburban areas.

Chad Jones, director of technology development for the Lamar Consolidated Independent School District, near Houston, provides a few hundred families with notebooks and Kajeet SmartSpots, MiFi mobile devices that access the Internet over cell towers. The devices have a portal that lets the IT department keep tabs on users.

“It lets us really partner with the students and help them be successful,” Jones explains. Learn more about broadband access projects in our feature story “Districts Work to Close the Homework Gap.”

Dare to Dream

Students need Internet access. But any attempt to bridge the digital divide at home starts with access to computers.

Over the past three years, the Merced Union High School District in rural Northern California rolled out Samsung Chromebooks to each of its 10,000 students. The district also installed a wireless access point in every classroom and a 20-gigabyte connection between each school and the district’s headquarters.

The technology combination Merced deployed supports many specialized STEM efforts, such as robotics, computer programming and engineering. All of this has come to fruition in a district where a few short years ago the vast majority of students did not have computers. “We’re giving kids the ability to dream beyond what they know,” says Anthony Thomas, IT manager for the district.

Read about how districts bring computing and STEM education to students in “Schools Give Students a Leg Up Using STEM, Technology."

Schools now have a great opportunity to deliver the tools that will prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, but they’ll need access to technology and STEM education. With the aid of low-cost technology and various government funding programs, many communities are making the necessary investments to make that happen.

Dmitrii Guzhanin/ThinkStock

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