Looking at education today, it might be hard to believe that back in 1994, just over one third of K-12 schools had an internet connection. Only seven years later in 2001, 99% of schools had internet connection. Of course, not all internet connections are the same. If you’ve ever given your home WiFi code to someone under the age of sixteen, you’ve probably heard firsthand about how yours is lacking. Early connectivity in schools was mostly dial up. It was impossibly slow to anyone who grew up after the early 2000s, and comically slow to those of us who remember those good old days.
That comparison just goes on. those early school broadband connections in the first years of the new millennium would certainly not be acceptable for entertainment now, and they’d be equally lacking for academic purposes. The bar just keeps getting higher.
These days a reliable internet connection is considered as essential as water and electricity for learning. It’s no longer a novelty, no longer an afterthought but a vital part of K-12 school infrastructure and one that must constantly be improved.
One-to-one device initiatives, the growth of digital learning experiences, and increased personalized learning drive a demand for ever more speed and bandwidth in school networks. So how are districts ensuring connectivity for the future?
A school or district that adopts a one-to-one model, where each student has their own device, will need its bandwidth to grow 60% each year. That means that by the time a first grade class reaches sixth grade they will need 10x what they began with. This requires thoughtful investment in equipment that far exceeds present demands, or is at least readily upgradable. This can lower the costs while providing some future-proofing through expansion and minor swaps.
The wrong choice, for sure, is to spend on infrastructure that will need total replacement. Every school has some room or closet full of old tech they can’t even get rid of.
Probably the most nationally well-known connectivity related program is the E-Rate from the FCC. Since 1997 schools and libraries have benefited from this program which makes telecommunications and information services more affordable.
The relief packages that came in the wake of the Coronavirus Outbreak have also jolted more funds into federal and state programs for both communications and hardware. Administrators, IT Staff, and other Central Office employees need to seek these out, they always have limits.
The early bird gets the worm, as they say and successful, connected schools will not sacrifice an opportunity for improvement.
School connectivity paradigms outside of the U.S, particularly in places where widespread internet first came with smartphones, have leap-frogged in some senses. In places like Brazil, 3G, 4G, and LTE have allowed schools to have robust and reliable connectivity. This is quite an achievement after having none at all.
One particular advantage of pushing the responsibility on Mobile Network Operators for school connectivity is their ability scale and their technical expertise. These manage professional networks for millions of customers, and they are always planning for the future.
If Covid-19 has done nothing else for education, it’s demonstrated some of the benefits and possibilities of remote learning. It has also demonstrated vast shortcomings and accessibility gaps across the country in a readiness for such a shift.
Many were calling for schools to address home connectivity long before Covid. Our hope is that this will remain in the conversation and planning moving forward. This “ubiquitous connectivity,” which can take the form of mobile hotspots, municipal WiFi, or broadband subsidies, helps to ensure that students who are expected to keep learning even beyond the doors of their schools aren’t limited by a lack of resources.
As of November 2020, 67% of K-12 schools were still short of recommended internet connectivity speeds. So it’s clear that school districts need to strongly consider both solutions and future connectivity. There will only be more devices, more possibilities, and more demand.
At LINQ, our hope is that schools take the best steps now so that future students have the best opportunities. We’re always available to help districts and schools future-proof their paperwork.
Want to learn more? We'd love to hear from you. Send us your information, and we'll reach out to you as soon as possible.