Mar 02 2022

K–12 Schools Seek to Connect 12 Million Students Without Home Broadband Access

Access to reliable connectivity at home still poses a challenge for many K–12 students trying to complete projects, homework and more. Hotspots may offer a solution.

For many, the internet has become an integral part of daily life. Phones connect to the internet, TVs connect to the internet, and even vacuum cleaners are online today. As part of the shift to remote learning in 2020, many schools provided devices such as laptops and tablets to students for the purpose of attending school via the internet.

Despite the leaps made in Internet of Things devices and educational technology, a report by Boston Consulting Group estimated 12 million students don’t have adequate internet access at home. Without it, these K–12 students can’t connect to remote classes or work on online homework.

Schools have found temporary solutions, such as installing Wi-Fi in parking lots, to keep students and staff online during remote learning, while the Emergency Connectivity Fund allowed schools to apply for limited federal funding last fall.

Many of these initiatives have come about as a response to virtual learning environments created in pandemic’s wake. Another solution to schools’ connectivity woes, the Homework Gap Grant program from Kajeet, has helped districts connect since it began in 2017. The goal of the program has always been to help close the homework gap by providing connectivity solutions to schools and libraries.

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In 2021, Kajeet named 85 winners of the grant, a record number, says Michael Flood, the company’s senior vice president of education and general manager. “During the pandemic, pretty much every school district was compelled to address this issue, because it was no longer just about homework. It was about normal school day learning that had to be done remotely,” he says.

Kajeet offers grant winners solutions to help students get online from beyond the school building, something that will continue to be necessary through 2022 and in future school years.

“The risk that we’re facing right now is that, as we exit the pandemic, we need schools to remember that this is a problem that existed before the pandemic, and it disproportionately impacts certain groups of students,” Flood says. “We found ways during the pandemic to connect all students, and we need to make sure we are keeping those students connected.”

Former Grant Winners Continue Using Hotspots 

When Technology Director Sondra Ayscue received hotspots in October 2018 as a Kajeet grant winner, the devices were used as a trial run for the students in North Carolina’s Franklin County Schools.

“With the homework grant, Kajeet had actually added UScellular service, which is better for us in our rural areas,” Ayscue says. “When I applied, we requested the UScellular, and they worked. I only had ten, but we sent those ten out as test cases to our middle school students, because they were the ones taking home Chromebooks at that time, and our high school students.”

DIVE DEEPER: K–12 districts choose Chromebooks for educators to elevate teaching and learning.

Now, Franklin County Schools has 2,200 hotspots to keep its students connected at home and in other locations outside the classroom. “They’re not all deployed, but we’re deploying a few every day, still trying to get through remote learning for some of our students.”

Dupo School District, a grant-winning K–12 district in Illinois that also received its hotspots prior to the pandemic, found the technology to be a beneficial solution for remote learning and homework.

Michael Flood
As we exit the pandemic, we need schools to remember that this is a problem that existed before the pandemic, and it disproportionately impacts certain groups of students.”

Michael Flood Senior Vice President of Education, Kajeet

“Roughly 25 percent of our students don’t have reliable connectivity at home,” says Michael Treece, the district’s director of curriculum. “They were used by students who wanted to work on projects at home and maybe didn’t have connectivity. Some students split their time between mom and dad, and they’re not always local. So, the hotspots are used for traveling purposes a lot too.”

Ayscue and Treece both feel that the application process was simple and that the hotspots will continue to benefit students.

“Other than allowing our students and teachers to be connected and do their work, it has also allowed our students with social-emotional needs, with speech impairments or with ESL needs to connect with their social workers and their special education teachers,” Treece says.

“It has made a difference for our students,” Ayscue adds. “Our kids are going to expect us to continue this even after everybody comes back face to face.”

KanawatTH/Getty Images

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