The Role of High-Speed Internet Access in Education
High-speed Internet access in schools is becoming more and more of a necessity. The wealth of educational resources found online is staggering, and students who don't have access to these resources could find themselves at a disadvantage as they continue with their academic career and beyond.
My children go to rural schools where the Internet isn't reliable. This has often been an inconvenience, but this past month, it's been a nightmare. Standardized testing no longer requires #2 pencils and reams of multiple choice answer sheets. Standardized testing requires computers and the Internet. At our local middle school, because of difficulties with the Internet, the testing has been stalled, delayed, started and stopped, and has taken far more time that it would have had the Internet been working.
And we all know how much spare time there is in classrooms! The time wasted trying to get the Internet to work is time that cuts into learning.
The problem of reliable Internet extends to homes, as well. When kids do their homework, there is often research to be done, messages to send, and documents to share. Ideally, a student's interest will be sparked and off they'll run down a rabbit hole of information, clicking away in the land of never ending information and opinion. The Internet, with all of its problems, is a terrific place to practice critical and creative thinking (under the watchful guidance of an adult).
This kind of learning can't happen in a home without Internet. And while mobile offers a partial solution, smartphones don't encourage the kind of deep dive during which learning blooms.
I'm not saying that all kids are going to be doing keyword searches on Einstein's theory of relativity after polishing off their math homework, but what if? What if a kid is so interested in quantum physics, Venn diagrams, the Civil War, or the structure of the U.S. government that they want to know more? Being able to do research a moment after feeling the urge to learn is key to fostering a life-long pursuit of knowledge.
We don't know what kinds of jobs are going to be waiting for our kids when they finish their schooling. Maybe computers aren't in your child's future, but that's a slim chance. Even applying for jobs at retail establishments often requires Internet access and the skill to complete an online application.
Don't get me wrong—books are amazing. Books (and #2 pencils) should not go away. Technology isn't meant to replace any of the tools we already use, it's meant to enhance them.
For example, almost every book we publish includes QR codes that link to websites where kids might find a primary source, a deeper explanation of the topic, or photographs and videos that help clarify the information. We also offer keywords that readers can use to search for similar information, in the event that the website is taken down. Taking advantage of these links requires Internet access. Can students get a lot out of the book without using the QR codes? I hope so! But they might get more from the books if they do have a way to dive deeper.
Many communities are working hard to ensure that all of its students have the tools they need to succeed. There are programs in place for households within certain incomes to apply for assistance paying for high-speed access. There are libraries that provide both computers and access to the Internet. And, of course, teachers are finding new and creative ways to incorporate technology into their classes.
At least, whenever the Internet works at their school.