Imagine your life without internet access.
Unfortunately, this is the reality for millions of kids across the country, including those living in North Carolina. According to Digital Charlotte, nearly one in five residents does not have internet at home or the means to access it. Children among this group must use alternative resources like libraries or their schools to try to complete assignments. And even that can be challenging as many schools struggle with the same issues: limited technology resources, strapped budgets and poor internet connectivity.
In fact, only 20 percent of educators say their school internet connection meets their teaching needs. The average American school has about the same connectivity as the average American home, but it serves 200 times more users, according to information issued by the Obama administration.
When connectivity suffers, so does the opportunity to explore innovative approaches to teaching. When high-speed internet access is present in classrooms, teachers can make learning more engaging for students – think access to learning games or virtual field trips. Furthermore, familiarizing students with cloud-based software prepares them for higher education – where connectivity and digital literacy are essential.
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Ultimately, cost seems to be the biggest impediment. Forty-six percent of K-12 school leaders and technology directors surveyed in the 2015 Consortium for School Networking E-rate and Infrastructure study identified the cost of monthly recurring charges as their biggest problem. Fully one-third cited high upfront capital costs.
Although the digital divide is widening for our school systems, this isn’t a problem without a solution. President Obama’s ConnectED initiative, for example, has helped to elevate awareness in local communities about connectivity issues and its impact on students.
At the center of the ConnectEd program is a challenge to link 99 percent of students to next-generation connectivity within five years. Sprint joined President Obama and other leaders in the technology and telecommunications industry in pledging its in-kind support. For the past two years, Sprint has worked to provide wireless broadband connectivity for 50,000 low-income K-12 students across the U.S.
Here in Charlotte, the company is piloting a program with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. This school year, 150 students will be able to check out wireless hotspots for internet access, just like books.
Continued support can help to close the digital gap for students. E2D (Eliminate the Digital Divide), the non-profit focused on ending the digital divide for students and families in the Charlotte area, is another great example of community stewards stepping in to lend a helping hand. Last year, more than 1,000 families in Charlotte received laptops, internet access and computer training from E2D.
While support from the community significantly helps, ultimately, North Carolina businesses will need to play a greater role in advancing the state’s education system. The more companies commit to doing their collective part in helping to improve internet access for all North Carolina students, the closer our nation gets to achieving its goal of 99 percent connectivity.
Michael Miess is Sprint president of the North Carolina/South Carolina region