Bridging the Digital Divide
How the pandemic spurred innovation to help close the gap
- By Scott Schoepel
- June 01, 2021
While the digital divide has long
been a problem for educators, the
pandemic brought the issue to the
forefront as schools began implementing
distance learning models.
Research conducted prior to the pandemic
showed approximately 30% of K-12 students
were without adequate internet or devices to
sustain effective learning at home.
Even as most schools return to in-person
classes, students without reliable home internet
are still at a disadvantage. In an environment
where almost every aspect of learning
has become digital in some way, reliable
internet access is fast becoming a prerequisite
to academic success.
Bridging the Digital Divide
with Private Broadband
The challenge of disconnected students is one
that schools and communities across the country
have scrambled to address. A handful,
including Belpre, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Kansas and
Patterson, CA, were among the first to overcome
it through the deployment of innovative private
broadband solutions that seamlessly extend
their school networks into the community to
connect students to online classes, streaming
video and other data-rich programming.
Other schools have relied on cellular carrier
systems and Wi-Fi hotspots, but these are
costly, provide inadequate coverage and offer
limited capacity, often failing to support one,
let alone multiple, students participating in
online classes. Private broadband networks
provide schools with a scalable, secure, reliable
and cost effective solution to connect students
to the internet. These networks eliminate
costly overages and offer more capacity
to support the needs of students.
Further, they allow schools to maintain
control over their networks and data.
Administrators are able to control who connects
to their network and what content can
be accessed. They can monitor who has
logged into the system and who has not, so
they can track attendance in remote learning
scenarios, and they can use that same information
to reach out and help troubleshoot
connection issues. Private broadband networks
are scalable, so they can cover a wide
area, from a single neighborhood to an entire
city, allowing schools to prioritize delivery to
those students most in need.
At Patterson Joint Unified School District,
students were jumping fences to get onto
school property just to have access to the
internet for homework assignments -- and
this was prior to the pandemic. With the onset
of distance learning, some parents were driving
their children to the homes of relatives in
neighboring towns to find a strong enough
internet connection to participate in video
calls for class. Realizing the need in their community,
school administrators leveraged
CARES Act funding to build a private broadband
network that would reliably connect students
in their homes. In just a matter of weeks,
teachers reported that students who had been
falling behind due to a lack of connectivity
were catching up with their peers.
The Need for Connectivity
Beyond the Pandemic
As educators, parents and students know,
learning does not stop once students leave
the classroom. Students without internet
access for homework and research will continue
to be at a significant and lasting disadvantage.
Private broadband networks offer a
long term solution and can benefit schools
and communities in other compelling ways.
They can serve as the foundation for other
connected technologies and devices. For
example, a network can connect video cameras
with analytics across campuses to provide
situational awareness to administrators, helping
keep students safe and schools secure.
Door sensors can be connected, so administrators
can be alerted if doors are propped
open, posing a potential security risk. Push-to-talk
communications devices can also be connected
to allow for seamless communication
between administrators across campuses. The
networks can even be used to track the locations
of school busses and provide connectivity
to passengers on their way to and from school.
School administrators may be optimistic
that pandemic-induced remote learning is
behind them, but the lack of an internet connectivity
for all students remains an ongoing
challenge across the United States. The flexibility
of private broadband networks offers
nearly unlimited options for schools as they
confront current and future barriers to
This article originally appeared in the May / June 2021 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.