High-speed broadband could prevent overcrowded classrooms
Their ability to replace poor web connectivity and unreliable networks with speedy internet access is paramount to the long-term success of rural education.
Augustus Limpia – a senior author of the study on the effects of high-speed broadband in school buildings across the U.S. – believes that policies that encourage or reward high-speed broadband infrastructure could have a far-reaching impact on education.
Researchers at the University of Kansas conducted a thorough analysis to find out how many kids were actually missing out on reading, math, or even science because of poor access to broadband. The numbers were startling: An average of 25 percent of rural students had poor internet connectivity, which meant that at least 5 percent of their instructional time was being missed out on. These are kids who should be studying, and according to the report, failure to meet benchmarks “could increase their likelihood of graduating from high school and enrolling in postsecondary education programs.”
“We hope this report provides resources for school administrators and policymakers to take action to improve school connectivity as a critical investment in their students’ educational success,” Limpia said.
Researchers found that schools that had high-speed broadband connections missed 22 hours of classroom instruction per year per school, totaling 20,554 hours. The impact of poor connection ranges, depending on grade level, but reading proficiency rates were the strongest.
The report claims that across all grades, just 20 percent of students met the state literacy benchmark, the same rate that nationally.
These numbers indicate that improving broadband connections will be incredibly important for rural schools to meet rigorous benchmarks.
“Students’ learning is impacted on many different levels,” says Michelle Kaufman, Director of the Education Advocacy Center for Washington, D.C.
“For example, students may spend more time reading homework or studying materials because they have broadband access at school. If they don’t have access, they have no way to keep track of homework assignments as they are worked on. Or they may miss out on subject-matter fundamentals due to poor access to tools like flashcards, memory aids and collaborative time assessments that make online learning so engaging and dynamic.”
Overall, it’s important to note that the study revealed that students that had basic broadband access could perform better, while those with less access weren’t as proficient.
“Providing low-income rural students and their teachers with adequate connectivity and other resources for learning can give rural schools, especially those with high concentrations of low-income students, an important edge in advancing the learning of those students,” said Limpia.
Researchers aim to bring light to the issue through the report, raising awareness on an issue that most often is discussed in national meetings but not investigated in the practical ways that affect people’s lives.
In the meantime, this study shows why broadband access shouldn’t be a political issue. It’s not about preserving what’s left of rural America; it’s about improving the learning of all students, everywhere.
“Without adequate broadband access, rural schools and students cannot achieve or retain the high levels of educational achievement that nearly all schools in our country receive from their connection to broadband,” Limpia said.
While policymakers are currently tasked with addressing poverty in the U.S., they can’t do it alone. The success of anyone who is willing to learn depends on the support of other parts of the educational system. If the U.S. continues on the path of delivering public resources to rural areas at varying levels of success, we will fail to build the workforce of the future. With the further consolidation of schools and the continuing growth of technology into everyday life, educating people is no longer enough. We need to excel at that task too.
Here is a link to the full report.