Reports: Cost, Infrastructure Hinder Internet at Schools

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According to a new study, students across the US are lacking Internet connectivity at school.

The Pearson Mobile Device Survey 2014 looked at data from 2,252 K-12 students in 2014.  The survey discovered that although 93% of the students had Internet access at home, only 62% attended a school with WiFi.

The survey also discovered that Internet connectivity is important for completing schoolwork, as 61% of middle school students and 71% of high school students report needing to access the Internet at least twice a week for school.  Some students report needing that connectivity on a daily basis, amounting to 26% of middle school students and 34% of high school students.

“This year’s findings expose a crucial gap in today’s K-12 learning environments — learners actually have greater access to Wi-Fi at home than in our nation’s classrooms. Many schools still do not have the wireless connectivity necessary to fully realize the power of today’s digital learning tools for preparing students to meet rigorous learning goals and to graduate college- and career-ready,” said Douglas Kubach, president, Pearson’s School group.

In a separate survey conducted by the Consortium of School Networking, 58% of the 1,000 school officials across 47 states to participate said the high monthly cost of the Internet was keeping them from connecting.  Another 38% reported the initial start-up costs as the main barrier from providing students with Internet access.  Others reported barriers such as geography, and poor classroom wireless access.

“Based on this new survey, we know that school systems across the country lack broadband capacity, particularly in rural areas, and high costs remain the greatest impediment to improving capacity,” the report states.

The survey was conducted in order to help the Federal Communications Commission with their “critical E-Rate choices” they will be making in their update of the program.

The national E-Rate program started 18 years ago to support increased telecommunications in schools and libraries.  The update will place a large amount of effort on updating and increasing WiFi connectivity in schools over the next two years.

According to the report, the FCC will need to “significantly increase the E-rate cap if ConnectED connectivity goals are to be reached,” having discovered that 84% of public schools feel their needs have not been met by the E-Rate program as of yet.

In an effort to provide Internet connection to its students, some schools are coming up with creative solutions.  In Alabama, Huntsville City Schools District (HCS) provided each of its more than 23,000 students with laptops, iPads or digital textbooks in 2012, becoming the first district in the US to do so.  In order to ensure that all students had adequate Internet access, the school partnered with city and local businesses to provide 10 hotspots around the city including in parks, recreation centers, and other places frequented by students.  The district also equipped 30 school busses with WiFi, allowing students to have internet access while traveling to and from school.  Comcast has also entered the deal, providing free cable modems and Internet connection to 70 families in the district.

Internet access provides students with everything they need for a quality education.  Using the Internet at school allows students to gain skills such as collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking – all skills they will need in college and the years beyond.