When the coronavirus epidemic closed schools, educators had to figure out how to find children online. Fast:
In a desperate approach, they messed up wireless hotspots, made deals with cable companies, and even set up their own networks.
With federal assistance, state governments and philanthropists, they have helped millions of students with online distance learning. Another year into the epidemic, millions of other people are left without internet access due to financial constraints due to logistical difficulties in getting students what they need.
Soon there will be more money for schools to provide the Internet, as well as programs designed to make the Internet more accessible. President Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion stimulus package, signed Thursday, includes $ 7 billion in distance learning. Advocates working to bridge the digital divide say the new funding will be a turning point in schools’ efforts to connect students.
In Chicago, the charity paid nearly $ 50 million for nearly half of the four-year Chicago Connected program, which pays for children’s home internet if they qualify for discounted lunches. Chicago public schools, the third largest in the country, cost $ 25 million.
About one-fifth of the 242,000 eligible students have access to the Internet.
Cherella Bilal said her free Chicago Connected Internet service could help her four children actually go to school, even though they are still struggling to stay focused in the virtual classroom. “It used to be awful,” he said. His current service was insufficient.
“We would be pushed out of our enlargement calls,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then; “Sometimes we could not hear.”
Schools worked well before the epidemic to address the challenges posed by the digital divide, disproportionately affecting black, Latino, Native American, and low-income household students. The transition to distance learning has dramatically increased the stakes.
The Global Sensory, a nonprofit that protects Internet access, estimates that 2 to 5 million of the 15 million schoolchildren who did not have access to the Internet at the time of the epidemic are connected. But many projects have an expiration date.
In Philadelphia, for example, a $ 17 million program to connect about 35,000 students will be funded by a federal charity fund that runs through 2022. income students until September.
About two-thirds of newly connected households have received hotspots, usually small boxes, that generate the Internet on the go, says Evan Marwell, executive director of EducationSuperHighway, a non-profit school focused on getting schools online. The rest was mostly from deals with cable companies like Comcast. Several districts have launched or expanded their own networks.
Schools had to be guided because the federal government failed to make the Internet accessible, said Blair Levine, an official with the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission.
“Schools were so tense,” Levine said. “It was not easy. It was a big burden. “
The United States has also played a major role in connecting students, transferring money to schools, or organizing purchases. Connecticut paid for hotspots: devices. Alabama has provided family vouchers for Internet service. North Dakota has identified students who do not have internet access.
Each approach had its drawbacks.
Hotspots do not work well in homes with many students or if cell phone reception is poor. Some school officials and families have criticized low-cost cable internet companies for being too expensive or insufficient in the long run. Creating a network of networks requires time, resources, expertise, and sometimes they are not ready for emergencies.
Colorado’s Boulder Valley School District launched a wireless network with a local Internet company three years ago, putting antennas on top of schools and providing free Internet access to nearby low-income students. 6,000 are eligible based on income.
It accelerated its spread due to the epidemic, but still serves only 216 students. The county received just $ 1 million in grants to speed up the deployment, said Andrew Moore, the county’s chief information officer.
Prior to the outbreak, the East Side Union High School District in San Jose, California, was running a $ 10 million community Wi-Fi network with the help of the city. It is estimated that it will eventually serve 300,000 inhabitants.
But the city library warns that the network’s “internal connection is not guaranteed.” The city sends family promoters to spend և $ 5 million on students at about 13,000 AT&T hotspots to improve their connection.
Schools use fraud and waste to provide students with Internet access at home, says George Orj Ford, an economist at the Phoenix Center, an think tank that opposes cities’ efforts to build their own broadband networks.
“Public school systems are not designed to do that,” he said.
Schools are important for connecting students after the epidemic, says Amina Fazlullah, director of equity policy at All Intelligence. They can make large purchases, reducing costs, and their close ties to families help encourage adoption.
California Imperial County, a rural, agricultural area bordering Mexico, is one of the poorest, with limited internet access. In Calipatria, in one of his smaller towns, City Council member Hector Cervantes pays $ 67 a month for AT&T Internet, which is not fast enough to qualify as a broadband network that he knows not to get involved with when his 16-year-old daughter is a woman. need for school և work so as not to earn.
The Imperial Region accidentally created a wireless network for government needs called BorderLink. It was launched to the public during the epidemic, but in some areas it has already been used, և it is used by only a fraction of the county’s 36,000 students.
The county has sent 3,500 modems to families and ordered 1,000.
“Every day we have administrators asking for more devices,” said Louis Wong, chief technology officer at the Imperial Education Office.
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