All students need and deserve broadband access, education leaders say

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New technology and increased internet connectivity is reshaping the K-12 landscape, but with many schools still left without broadband access, education stakeholders should pursue initiatives and policies to support digital equity for students, education leaders advocating for broadband access said in Washington D.C. Wednesday.

Members of the State Educational Technology Directors Association gathered on Capitol Hill to demonstrate to federal policymakers the importance of technology-enhanced learning and recommend actions for government leadership to better prepare students for life and work.

“Today’s students need equitable, robust bandwidth access to ensure that engaging, personalized learning experiences are being implemented for all,” Candice Dodson, executive director of SETDA, said in a press release. “Skills based on dynamic digital instructional materials, online simulations, coding, and content creation are essential to a student’s success for today and into the future. Connectivity is a key variable to making this happen.”

Although nearly all schools across the U.S. have access to internet, the quality of that connectivity varies widely, according to SETDA’s recent research.

Nearly one-fourth of the rural U.S. population — 14.5 million people — lack access to high-speed internet service, according to the FCCPew Research found that 17 percent of teens don’t have reliable access to an internet connected device, often resulting in incomplete homework assignments.

“Equitable access to high-speed broadband is the foundation upon which today’s schools create enhanced and empowering digital learning experiences,” SETDA’s report states.

Digital instruction — like project-based learning exercises, virtual reality field trips and web-enabled learning — are being implemented in schools across the country and have shown promise in helping educators foster student success in the classroom and beyond.

The report points to states like Kentucky, where Fayette County Schools equipped students with digital tools and mentors to help them pursue career interests and become lifelong learners who can adapt to a changing digital-age workplace. Similarly, the report shows, Wisconsin schools have used $62.1 million in E-Rate funds to build out high-speed broadband connections to support students and the community with new opportunities. The FCC can currently authorize up to $4.15 billion in E-Rate funds annually.

New technology and equitable access to internet allows schools to enhance learning and instruction in ways that were previously impossible, according to SETDA, and allows educators to choose from a multitude of pedagogical approaches giving them instructional freedom and flexibility.

“If we teach as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow,” education reformer John Dewey said in SETDA’s report.

But, the group says, to support technology-based learning and the digital tools that enable it, education leaders must focus on their academic goals to cultivate policy and implementation methods that can enhance their learning environments, as well as anticipate their future technology needs to create sustainable, robust and reliable networks and infrastructure.

Similarly, the report continues, federal and state government leaders need to recognize the importance of technology-enhanced education and develop policy to ensure that all districts have access to necessary funds to implement digital tools and support student success.

“We need technology in every classroom and in every student and teacher’s hand, because it is the pen and paper of our time, and it is the lens through which we experience much of our world,” education consultant David Warlick said in the press release.

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