Bridging the Digital Divide

Bridging the Digital Divide

How the pandemic spurred innovation to help close the gap

While the digital divide has long been a problem for educators, the pandemic brought the issue to the forefront as schools began implementing distance learning models. Research conducted prior to the pandemic showed approximately 30% of K-12 students were without adequate internet or devices to sustain effective learning at home.

Even as most schools return to in-person classes, students without reliable home internet are still at a disadvantage. In an environment where almost every aspect of learning has become digital in some way, reliable internet access is fast becoming a prerequisite to academic success.

Bridging the Digital Divide with Private Broadband

The challenge of disconnected students is one that schools and communities across the country have scrambled to address. A handful, including Belpre, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Kansas and Patterson, CA, were among the first to overcome it through the deployment of innovative private broadband solutions that seamlessly extend their school networks into the community to connect students to online classes, streaming video and other data-rich programming.

Other schools have relied on cellular carrier systems and Wi-Fi hotspots, but these are costly, provide inadequate coverage and offer limited capacity, often failing to support one, let alone multiple, students participating in online classes. Private broadband networks provide schools with a scalable, secure, reliable and cost effective solution to connect students to the internet. These networks eliminate costly overages and offer more capacity to support the needs of students.

Further, they allow schools to maintain control over their networks and data. Administrators are able to control who connects to their network and what content can be accessed. They can monitor who has logged into the system and who has not, so they can track attendance in remote learning scenarios, and they can use that same information to reach out and help troubleshoot connection issues. Private broadband networks are scalable, so they can cover a wide area, from a single neighborhood to an entire city, allowing schools to prioritize delivery to those students most in need.

At Patterson Joint Unified School District, students were jumping fences to get onto school property just to have access to the internet for homework assignments -- and this was prior to the pandemic. With the onset of distance learning, some parents were driving their children to the homes of relatives in neighboring towns to find a strong enough internet connection to participate in video calls for class. Realizing the need in their community, school administrators leveraged CARES Act funding to build a private broadband network that would reliably connect students in their homes. In just a matter of weeks, teachers reported that students who had been falling behind due to a lack of connectivity were catching up with their peers.

The Need for Connectivity Beyond the Pandemic

As educators, parents and students know, learning does not stop once students leave the classroom. Students without internet access for homework and research will continue to be at a significant and lasting disadvantage. Private broadband networks offer a long term solution and can benefit schools and communities in other compelling ways.

They can serve as the foundation for other connected technologies and devices. For example, a network can connect video cameras with analytics across campuses to provide situational awareness to administrators, helping keep students safe and schools secure.

Door sensors can be connected, so administrators can be alerted if doors are propped open, posing a potential security risk. Push-to-talk communications devices can also be connected to allow for seamless communication between administrators across campuses. The networks can even be used to track the locations of school busses and provide connectivity to passengers on their way to and from school.

School administrators may be optimistic that pandemic-induced remote learning is behind them, but the lack of an internet connectivity for all students remains an ongoing challenge across the United States. The flexibility of private broadband networks offers nearly unlimited options for schools as they confront current and future barriers to learning.

This article originally appeared in the May / June 2021 issue of Campus Security Today.

About the Author

Scott Schoepel is vice president of Global Enterprise at Motorola Solutions


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