By Guest Contributor Caroline Gilchrist, Skyward, Inc.
In a world of connectivity, pockets of darkness remain. Twelve million children in the U.S. lack the internet access or devices they need to participate in remote learning. This disparity has only become more apparent—and devastating—amid the pandemic.
Are you looking to light up the dark? Here are three ways you can help support closing the connectivity gap.
1) Federal support
Lawmakers aren’t deaf to educators’ pleas for help. That’s why it’s important to stay up on the politics of education initiatives and maximize the funds given.
The latest: At the close of 2020, the COVID relief package allocated $7 billion to broadband, some of which is going toward increasing internet service for families with low incomes, rural addresses, and homes on Tribal lands. Families with low incomes or rural addresses are eligible for up to a $50-per-month discount and families on Tribal lands up to $75. In addition, eligible households can receive up to $100 to help cover the cost of technology, including laptops, desktops, and tablets.
2) Connectivity conversations
Since the broadband funding isn’t directly going to schools, it may require some extra steps to help connect families with broadband. Here are a handful of ways EdTech partners can help.
Spread the word.
Schools are trying to make sure families know what they’re eligible for and how to take advantage of it. Every additional signal boost is worth its weight in gold.
Pair families with the right technology.
Help deserving families make the most of their stipend by compiling information on budget-friendly technology, especially if school partners are open to passing on the message.
Make an expert available.
Adjust the messaging, troubleshooting, and support for solutions to be extremely conversational and accessible for those who aren’t tech savvy. Teachers are being tapped as helpdesk staff in overstretched districts. Their clientele? Parents and grandparents supervising remote learning without a clue how to adjust settings to improve their experience.
3) DIY ISP
Desperate times don’t always call for desperate measures. Sometimes what they require is a little creativity.
Some schools are taking the matter of broadband connectivity into their own hands. One district in Utah, for example, is putting the finishing touches on its very own LTE network—the first of its kind. The district’s 44 towers, combined with hotspots, other receivers, and district Chromebooks, will ensure that all 6,000 students will be online, regardless of economic circumstances.
According to a 2020 MDR report, Arizona and Maryland are launching statewide initiatives to bring broadband internet to students. This is innovation in education at its finest: if what you’re looking for doesn’t exist, invent it.
The federal E-rate program has been around since 1997 and pairs certain nonprofit organizations with discounted internet services. This has always included school buildings and libraries, but in the early days of remote learning triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, education leaders urged policymakers to expand its reach to home classrooms, too.
As of now, we’re still waiting, but it’s good to keep bringing it up. By spreading awareness of the program and its impact, maybe in the near future we can see even greater progress toward bridging the broadband connectivity gap.
Bringing connectivity to all
There’s no doubt about it anymore: broadband access is not a luxury. It powers the connections today’s students need to be successful in K–12, college, and beyond into their careers. Students who are missing out fall farther behind every day.
As education technology continues to evolve, and continues to demand broadband access, more inclusive technology can be life-changing for students who lack access. Keep in mind kids who cannot connect on par with their peers and create alternatives: easy toggling between HD and SD video, capping data usage for applications, and more. Roll out fast troubleshooting tips for teachers who find themselves training families to use EdTech on the fly. The more tech companies ease that burden, the more they can teach.
Continue pushing for access for all. Education thrives when we can all connect.
Caroline Gilchrist is a writer at Skyward, Inc., where she delves into K-12 technology and leadership in blog articles and marketing materials. A lifelong word nerd, she started writing creatively at the age of eight and went on to study English and communication. Now, she’s excited to be using her skills to help K-12 education uncover a brighter future.