Why Broadening Technology Access is Critically Important for Schools
Bridging the digital divide, closing the homework gap, ensuring educational equity. Different terms, same common problem – millions of students across North America lack access to technology that enables academic success.
The issue has become even more pronounced since the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close and shift to remote learning. At the beginning of the shutdown, 16 million K-12 students in the U.S. lacked access to a reliable device, high-speed internet or both. ( 1 ) While the divide narrowed to roughly 12 million by December 2020 – thanks to CARES Act funding and partnerships with private companies – a sizeable portion of students are still struggling to keep up with their classmates.
Why the Digital Divide Matters
During the pandemic, low-income families and families of color predominately chose to continue remote learning even when students were allowed to return to the classroom. These demographics are less likely to have access to adequate technology, especially if they live in a less wealthy or rural district. ( 2 ) Though some of these students may opt for in-person learning in the 2021-2022 school year, some schools still plan to offer virtual learning options, making the issue of equity even more critical.
A Michigan State University report shows that students who lack access to devices and internet access have GPAs that are 0.4 points lower than their peers with reliable access. ( 3 ) They are also projected to experience more severe learning loss and are more likely to drop out of school.
Learning loss has been a point of contention since schools went virtual in March 2020. Some surveys show that a majority of educators estimate their students have fallen behind by three or more months in their academic and social-emotional progress. ( 4 ) Still, other experts argue that remote learning has actually been better than in-person learning for some students, particularly minority students who were underserved in a traditional classroom setting. ( 5 ) This underscores the importance of connectivity, no matter the learning environment.
Funding Opportunities for Schools
As part of the American Rescue Plan, schools across the U.S. will receive $130 billion in funding to help them serve all students, no matter where they’re learning. This investment is particularly focused on ensuring districts address learning loss and social-emotional needs of students who have been most impacted by COVID-19.
Ed tech is expected to make up a significant portion of schools’ American Rescue Plan spending, with some districts looking to bolster their 1:1 programs through device and hot spot purchases, to support remote learners. ( 6 )
One funding stream from the plan focused on improving connectivity for students learning remotely is the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF). It provides $7.1 billion to be distributed through the federal E-rate program to cover the costs of broadband internet service, laptops and tablets, and Wi-Fi hardware.
Connectivity Solutions for Remote Learning
The ECF is expected to help millions of students get the access they need to tech tools that help boost learning outcomes. As champions of improving technology access, Trox has created some easy ways for you to procure devices, Wi-Fi hotspots and broadband service through the ECF.
Becoming a 1:1 district is much more feasible through the ECF. Schools can purchase devices that cost up to $400 each, which can even include add-ons like warranty plans to protect against accidental damage and white glove services for easy device deployment.
Wi-Fi Hotspots and Broadband Connectivity
Wi-Fi hotspots, paired with a wireless data plan, bring internet service to students wherever they are. They’re designed to be easy to launch, offer customizable filters to keep students safe and on-task, include access to data management services and customer support.
Many districts have seen success with a unique Wi-Fi solution created not for use at home but on the school bus. Farmington Municipal Schools in rural northern New Mexico rolled out the Kajeet SmartBus™ Wi-Fi hotspot in 2019 to support its students without internet access at home and who had to commute an hour or more each way to school. Just a few months into the program, district administrators noticed that students racked up 900 hours of learning time per week across all 29 buses equipped with the SmartBus™. Teachers, bus drivers and parents alike are fans of the solution.
Check out valuable resources to learn more about how this funding source can help your school, and read about more secrets to saving money during the education buying season.
- Tate, E. 27 January 2021. The Digital Divide Has Narrowed, But 12 Million Students Are Still Disconnected [Report]
- Gewertz, C. 5 May 2021. Remote Learning Isn’t Going Away. Will It Create Separate—and Unequal—School Systems? [Report]
- Hampton, K., Fernandez, L., Robertson C., Bauer J. 2020. Broadband and Student Performance Gaps [Report]
- Dickler, J. 30 March 2021. Virtual school resulted in ‘significant’ academic learning loss, study finds [Report]
- Hickman, L. 15 July 2021. Opinion: Why Black families have found some benefits in distance learning [Report]
- Bradley, B. 9 April 2021. How School Districts Will Spend Money From the New Federal Stimulus [Report]
About the Author
Ashley Wallinger is a content marketing specialist at Trox. She began her career in broadcast journalism, working as a producer at two TV stations, where she created content for news broadcasts and digital platforms. She has since held roles as a digital copywriter for a marketing agency, as well as a social media specialist overseeing content creation and analytics for the Scottsdale Unified School District in Scottsdale, Arizona. Her background and profile can be found on LinkedIn.