Education Means Access

A recent story in USA Today from Ron Barnett highlights some of the benefits students at a South Carolina high school are receiving from being connected:

Jennifer Southers has flipped education upside-down for her math students at Hillcrest High School.

Instead of coming to class and listening to a lecture, then going home and trying out what they learned on their own, they listen to a lecture on video before class and work on putting the new knowledge to practice in the classroom, where their teacher is there to help.

“The level of frustration has almost disappeared completely on those lessons when we do that,” she said of the “flipped classroom” concept that she and other teachers are using.

Unfortunately, as Barnett’s piece goes on to point out, America’s ongoing digital divide may be creating an uneven playing field when it comes to educating students:

[W]hat about students who don’t have broadband Internet access at home? How can they keep up with their peers in streaming instructional videos and doing online research?

More than two-thirds of low-income families in South Carolina don’t have a high-speed Internet connection, said Jessica Ditto, spokeswoman for Connected Nation, a nonprofit organization that works to increase broadband access in the nation. Overall, 57 percent of households in the state have broadband access, she said.

Increasingly, access to the Internet means access to improved education, which means students in the 43% of South Carolina households not connected with broadband are at risk of being left behind when it comes to innovative learning. But as Barnett reports, there’s hope on the horizon — for South Carolina and elsewhere:

Bill Brown, executive director of educational technology services for Greenville County Schools, says 4G LTE technology offers the most promise for bridging the digital divide.

With it, “You could blanket buildings, you could blanket cities” with high-speed Internet access, he said.

More powerful networks — beginning with 4G LTE (which, as anyone who has experienced it can attest, is remarkably fast) and continuing with the shift to all-IP based networks — will mean more access in more ways for more people. With the future of education tied to technology, encouraging investment in these networks should be an educational priority.

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