The access of Internet in all schools across the country has been a pressing issue, with government programs intending for 99 percent of America’s students to connect with broadband Internet within the next five years. The average American school has the same bandwidth as the average American home, and current figures show that between 29 and 39 percent of America’s students have access to high-speed Internet at school.
By 2005, the E-rate program, started by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1997 to provide schools with Internet access, had successfully connected 94 percent of American classrooms. However, roughly half of E-rate schools access the Internet at speeds of 3 megabits per second or less—too slow to stream high-definition video or other teaching platforms. Limited bandwidth forces school administrators to decide usable programs and what grades or classrooms get them. According to the blog on the US Department of Education (ED) website, “Broadband holds the potential to address issues of educational access and equity of opportunity. Broadband connections are the building blocks of a digital learning environment…” The government program intended to connect schools with broadband capacity, ConnectED, is asking the FCC to make Internet access cheaper for schools through the E-rate program.
A great example of what broadband capacity can provide for a school is the Mooresville Graded School District in Mooresville, North Carolina. The school district developed a digital learning program with high-speed broadband capacity. As a result, schools within the district have seen improved academic performance, student engagement and graduation rates—all while decreasing funds needed per pupil. Of the 115 school districts in North Carolina, Mooresville ranked in the bottom ten in money spent per student while ranking second in student achievement. The success of the school due to their broadband capacity triggered Barack Obama to visit the school in June of 2013, when he announced the Broadband-for-Schools Project. Other countries have also realized the importance of high-speed Internet in schools: 100 percent of South Korean schools are connected to broadband, and Uruguay’s primary and secondary schools have been connected through a national program, where every primary school student has access to a free laptop.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Dr. Mark Edwards, superintendent of Mooresville Graded School District, propose in The Huffington Post that if it can be done in Mooresville, it can be done in every school district in every state. They suggest an aim that by the 2015 school year, every school should have access to 100 megabits per second, and by the end of the decade, 1 gigabit. The need for broadband in schools seems beneficial to not only prepare America’s students with skills to get good jobs in a digital age, but to also compete with countries around the world.
Did You Know?
Although it may be ideal that schools have access to 100 Mbps per 1,000 students, it’s also important to understand what this bandwidth will be used for. It’s necessary for webinars, video streaming and even online courses—but also for the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) Deputy Executive Director Dr. Geoffrey H. Fletcher notes that bandwidth necessary for administering assessments may not be as much as what’s needed on a normal day, but that some schools may need to opt for only using their internal network for assessments versus other school functions. Denise Atkinson-Shorey, an educational technology consultant in Colorado and the former president and chief information officer for the Educational Access Gateway Learning Environment Network (EAGLE-Net), seconds this thought. Some schools and districts, particularly ones in rural areas, may not have enough access to connectivity to execute assessment school-wide. The capacity for transmitting data directly affects the speed, despite the investment in making the bandwidth available at the network gateway end. Schools may also have a hard time increasing their connectivity with budget cuts and competition in appealing for public funding.