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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Can Schools Become Future Ready When Families Aren’t Connected?

One of the most vexing challenges for schools trying to convert to becoming Future Ready by transitioning to digital learning, is the persistently large number of students from families that do not have Internet access

Internet access alone will not bring about a change in learning, but it can support reshaping classrooms and schools that are embracing flipped classrooms, student-based discovery, and personalization of learning. For schools looking to put devices in the hands of students, the lack of Internet access in many homes is a major stumbling block. Schools and some Internet service providers have tried to address this access gap with varying degrees of success and creativity. Coachella Valley Unified School District parked Wi-Fi equipped buses in neighborhoods of greatest need, while Forsyth County Schools partnered with local business who would offer students free Wi-Fi and a safe place to work on homework. Comcast has offered a basic Internet plan to families in its markets for $9.95 a month. Pasadena ISD near Houston, Texas is going so far as to build their own LTE broadband network, but for most school this type of build out has far too many technical and financial hurdles.

 Will the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) come to the rescue? It very well might, as last week the FCC voted to change its Lifeline program, which subsidizes telephones for low income families. The change would subsidize just under $10 a month for broadband Internet for low income families. The FCC already transformed e-Rate this year. Will the Lifeline program change be another shift in policy that can really help schools bridge the access divide? This could be a huge opportunity for schools to encourage families to sign up for low- or no-cost Internet and have the same learning opportunities that other families with Internet access have.