The Connectivity Gap in Rural Education
As education grows more dependent on digital learning and technology, rural students are in danger of falling behind their more well-connected urban peers.
As we leave the industrial age behind us and move into the information age, education is undergoing a profound transformation, becoming significantly more individualized and technology-based.
Teachers can now leverage a multitude of online libraries of educational resources for the classroom. Interactive e-textbooks can be continuously refined and updated, unlike traditional printed textbooks. Lesson plans are far more flexible and can be specifically tailored for individual students, rather than conforming to a one-size-fits-all model. Students are now empowered with a myriad of resources to foster individualized learning, including blogs, wikis, podcasts, videos, social media, open education resources, and specialized communities of expertise. They also have access to valuable college prep materials and online continuing education courses.
And this is just the beginning. A KnowledgeWorks Foundation study predicts that over the next 10 years, “personalization [of education] will become the norm…we will enter into a new era of education, one in which learning adapts to each child instead of each child trying to adapt to school.” Teachers’ roles will continue to evolve from instructing large groups of students to mentoring students working individually on their own assignments.
There is, however, one key component to unlocking all of these new advancements and strategies: High-speed internet connectivity. And in rural areas, that component is significantly lacking.
The Rural Broadband Divide
Along with underserved schools, rural households often lack broadband connectivity as well. According to the US Department of Education, 18% of students aged 5-17 in rural areas have no broadband access at home. This means that even if a school is wired for broadband, many students still cannot use broadband-dependent resources to study, do homework assignments, utilize online supplementary learning materials or take online college prep courses on their own time. These kinds of disparities even force some students to complete homework assignments in unconventional places such as restaurants or parking lots to connect to free high-speed internet.
As education today grows increasingly dependent on digital learning and technology, rural students are in danger of falling further and further behind their more well-connected urban and suburban peers. Not only are they unable to access a robust ecosystem of modern educational resources and learning strategies, but they are missing out on developing crucial technology skills that are necessary to succeed in a connected global economy.
The Way Forward
Connecting rural schools to high-speed internet is a lot more complicated than simply laying fiber cables and hooking the buildings up to a network provider. However, there are some promising efforts happening today to bridge the rural connectivity divide in education.
Just this year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which would allocate an additional $20.4 billion to expand broadband infrastructure to rural areas where it is not yet widely available. The FCC has also taken a number of critical steps forward to remove the regulatory barriers preventing TV whitespace (TVWS) from being utilized on a large scale in rural areas. TVWS refers to the unused white space between active channels on the VHF and UHF spectrum. This space can simultaneously be used to deliver broadband internet.
Also, colocation data center providers such as Netrality serve as points of presence (POP) for rural broadband providers to expand their networks to reach underserved markets. Netrality is proud to help enable the connectivity educational institutions need to provide a digital, 21st-century education to today’s students.
Contact us to learn more.