How to Combat the Digital Divide for Students at Home
As the country continues to embrace remote work and distance learning, the digital divide has become more apparent. In fact, according to a Newsday article, New York State ranks 26th in the nation in regards to the percentage of households with school children not having broadband access, any internet access, or computers. The digital divide has been ongoing for decades, but it has taken the pandemic to finally put the focus on it and bring it top of mind.
Otsego County Schools Continue to Face Challenges
As with most schools throughout the country, our local school districts have begun to evaluate how students adapt to challenges receiving education during the pandemic. Like many of the nation’s schools, our local school districts, including Oneonta, Cooperstown, and Unatego, continue to provide students with either fully remote or hybrid instruction for the foreseeable future.
As schools prepare for the winter recess, many are taking the respite to evaluate lessons learned and are striving to provide their students with a better learning experience going forward. One persistent issue is the lack of broadband access for all of their students. While the ability to provide remote learning allowed most school districts the ability to continue classes, unfortunately a large number of students were unable to take advantage of the practice.
Ironically, it was through the implementation of providing instruction remotely or through a hybrid approach that many school districts came to realize how many of their students did not have broadband access and weren’t able to do their schoolwork remotely. The solution for these students was to provide ‘paper lessons’ since they could not access the online content.
While paper lessons certainly allowed these unconnected students to do their classwork, another reality began to come into view, the unconnected students were also at a disadvantage. They weren’t receiving the same level of education as their connected peers. For example, many schools use YouTube to post videos as part of their learning tools, but unconnected students can’t be a part of the conversation. As the digital divide makes its presence known in our local communities, our students are negatively affected by it, making this an issue that needs to be addressed.
Increase Access to Broadband
While larger cities such as NYC may have the infrastructure, the reality is a large part of New York State isn’t composed of large cities, but of smaller communities. Unfortunately, these semi-rural areas often don’t have access to the level of infrastructure needed to provide the broadband necessary to support distance learning. Moreover, the uncomfortable truth is they most likely won’t have it in the near future either. Instead of relying on paper lessons for the Spring semester, now’s the time for your school district to think outside the box. Here are some suggestions to help the unconnected, get connected.
Hotspots May be a Solution
Hotspots can provide access. If students don’t have access to broadband, then the school can bring access to their students in the form of hotspots. Two types of hotspots to consider are personal and public.
A personal hotspot is a device that provides internet access by using cellular data. While most smartphones can be used as a hotspot, they must use their data plan to do so. Depending on the type of plan the user has, they may run out of data or face increases to their monthly bill. Moreover, when using your smartphone as a hotspot, it may cause your provider to 'throttle" (or reduce) your data's speed, reducing your productivity. You’ll need to discuss and understand the options with your carrier.
The lack of broadband access has become such a pressing issue, that many organizations are trying to find ways to support underserved students. For example, T-Mobile's Project 10 Million is a program committed to providing school districts free internet access and mobile hotspots for up to 10 million students and households. If you're a parent or school administrator with students having difficulty learning remotely due to poor internet access, consider visiting T-Mobile's site for more information on how they may help.
While T-Mobile and other organizations’ commitment to bridging the digital divide is undoubtedly welcomed, there is the unfortunate reality that they won't be able to provide coverage for all the students who need access; there’s just too many. However, all is not lost; there are still ways to give students access, if schools are willing to be innovative.
One such method to provide access is to turn unused school buses into mobile hotspots. Doing so will bring Wi-Fi access to communities that may not have the necessary broadband infrastructure in place.
Using school buses as a mobile hotspot comes with a variety of benefits, including being able to monitor how students are using their connections as well as being able to ensure they are only able to access school-approved content. Moreover, the ability to collect data will help your school better understand how your students learn and give you the ability to create more focused learning models. Finally, using school buses as mobile hotspots allows schools to retain bus drivers and other support staff who may otherwise be laid off. As far as we know, that isn’t something available in our area yet.
Other public hotspots can be found at local coffee shops, libraries, and other businesses, but with social distancing, this can put your family at risk. On top of that, not all business owners want kids spending the school day in or around their business.You’ll need to do your research ahead of time.
The Pandemic Has Exposed Weaknesses in the System
The pandemic has managed to expose our systems' weakness, not only in regards to our students having access to broadband so they can do their school work, but in other areas as well. Whether it's the lack of PCI compliance or how many businesses aren't prepared for remote work, the pandemic has shone a light on weaknesses once hidden away.
This exposure has allowed us to see and recognize areas that need improvement, as area organizations and even local governments may not have put a priority in resources. As we continue to live, work and learn during these challenging times, we continue to search for solutions to reduce issues which can prevent us from being productive and reaching our full-potential.
Directive offers local businesses a wealth of tools and expertise to allow your business to continue to operate and compete in an increasingly unpredictable business environment. In this post-coronavirus market, you need to focus on your business, so let Directive worry about your technology. We can find innovative solutions to keep your business competitive and profitable. Call 607.433.2200 today.