Fewer districts offer home internet access, but students still need it

Fewer districts offer home internet access, but students still need it

The number of schools that report providing students with home Internet access has dropped dramatically over the past year, according to survey data recently released by the National Center for Education Statistics..

Forty-five percent of public schools say they still offer home Internet to students. This is down from 70% in September 2021. The survey covered 900 schools.

Such a decline will have major consequences for the millions of children who do not have access to the internet at home or are at risk of losing it as schools retreat from their role in the age of the pandemic as providers and de facto internet brokers.

Even though the vast majority of students are back in school in person, they still need reliable home internet to fully participate in their education, whether it’s doing homework, getting tutoring virtual or to follow courses remotely in bad weather.

The pandemic has also led to an increase in technology adoption, said Jack Lynch, chief operating officer of EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit that advocates for greater broadband access. for homes and schools, putting more pressure on students to be connected at home.

“As the whole K-12 ecosystem has become more comfortable with technology in the classroom, digital learning, using these digital tools – which is a good thing overall – we need to make sure that every student can access it equally and fairly,” he said. .

Internet affordability, rather than a lack of access to high-speed broadband infrastructure, is the main reason why millions of students do not have the Internet at home, according to a report by EducationSuperHighway.

About 15 million college students didn’t have internet access at home at the start of the pandemic, Lynch said. While more students certainly have access now, it’s unclear how much that number has changed, and Lynch said there persists a significant number of students who are still unconnected.

Long before this year, K-12 leaders and advocates for fairer broadband connectivity feared federal COVID aid was running out. and the partnerships forged at the height of the pandemic between school districts and internet service providers expired, millions of students would lose their home internet.

Schools are likely to forego offering home internet, whether providing mobile hotspots or negotiating family internet deals with local internet companies, as federal COVID relief aid runs out, said Lynch. Moreover, he said many schools were never well equipped to fulfill this role in the first place.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t federal money available for families to pay for broadband, it just isn’t going through schools for families.

One of the main new sources of funding is the Affordable Connectivity Program, which offers eligible households who apply $30 rebates on their monthly Internet bills. Subsequently, a number of ISPs pledged to offer $30-a-month packages, Lynch said, making internet free for many low-income households.

Even though schools no longer actively provide home internet, they still have an important role to play in connecting and keeping families connected, he said, primarily by educating families about their options, Lynch said.

“CPA awareness is very low nationally,” he said. “Only about 25% of eligible households are aware of the existence of the program. Without being aware that the program exists, you will never enroll in it.

“Not a very fair solution”

While the percentage of schools providing home internet to students has dropped significantly, the percentage of schools providing public hotspots for students outside of the home, such as in a library or parking lot, has increased slightly. Fifty-six percent said they offered internet hotspot access to students in locations other than their home at the start of this school year, up from 49 percent of schools this time last year. . But that setup is far from ideal for most students, Lynch said.

“It’s better than nothing,” he said. “But it still requires the student to be able to transport themselves to where that place is and sit there for as long as they need to use the internet. It’s not a very fair solution.

Almost all schools in the survey (94%) provide laptops and tablets to students who need them, down slightly from the 96% of schools that said they did the same in beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

The NCES survey also asked schools if they teach their students digital literacy. Seventy-two percent of schools said yes, and a quarter said they also provide digital literacy training to their students’ families.

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