As scientists work diligently to deliver a Coronavirus vaccine, schools everywhere are faced with a huge decision: open in Fall 2020 with countless restrictions and public health risks or adopt full distance learning protocols until community spread is contained. However, this second approach can be problematic. According to recent US Census data*, approximately twelve percent of American households still have no access to internet.
“We can level the digital playing field to end that access inequity for our students,” said Rick Daniel, founding partner of 1 Accord Technologies, a technology consulting and implementation firm in Georgia. “Now more than ever, off-campus connectivity is vital to ensure consistent distance learning delivery for our students in the most rural areas,” Daniel said. With a Congressional allocation of at least $31 billion for education relief and technology infrastructure, “Connectivity is possible for more school systems,” Daniel added. “Collaborative learning and intellectual discovery are complex issues. We evaluate school district needs and custom design digital networks to ensure that all homes, no matter how remote, are able to receive virtual instruction and participate in online student social interaction.”
Distance learning is defined in the April 2020 Issue Brief Distance Learning During COVID-19: 7 Equity Considerations for Schools and Districts by Titilayo Tinubu Ali, director of research and policy for the Southern Education Foundation, and Mirel Herrera, an Atlanta-based policy, research and strategy consultant.
In their report, the authors stated, “Distance or remote learning is often thought to be synonymous with online learning. In fact, they are different. Distance learning may incorporate online learning, but it may also include other components. For example, some school districts have opted to create packets for students and families to pick up which include learning materials and exercises. In other districts, teachers are using online platforms to provide instruction for students and to communicate with students and their families. Districts should keep in mind the needs of their students and families when choosing how to implement distance learning during school closures.”
Chris Minton, founding partner at 1 Accord Technologies, agreed. “Kids shouldn’t have to miss out on important activities just because of where they live, and they shouldn’t have to participate in school activities from a car or public hotspot while trying to pick up viable internet signal strength for distance learning,” he explained. “By installing customized fixed wireless broadband networks that comply with FCC regulations, we can expand the educational reach of our school districts. Our company is pioneering secure, compliant and innovative wireless networks for our underserved farm communities and previously low signal-strength areas.”
“Each school district faces unique geographical challenges,” Daniel pointed out, “and each will require a slightly different technical solution.” Working with technology partners, 1 Accord Technologies tailors each school system network design to maximize security and reliability no matter the conditions.
While go/no go decisions are in process concerning return to classrooms, “Technology infrastructure should be fortified and networks installed to enable fall distance learning,” Minton said.
Striving for Equity in Education in Fall 2020
“We focus on the critical need to magnify educational impact and give every single student, rich or poor, urban or rural, an equal opportunity to succeed beyond the physical classroom,” Daniel said. “The world as we knew it has rapidly changed, and school technology must adapt to uphold its commitment to educating our young citizens.”
Gretchen Wright, director of communications for the Southern Education Foundation, said, “As we look toward fall and the possibility of online-only or online and in-person teaching, we must also consider the lessons of this spring when students who did not have regular access to computers or to the internet struggled to keep up with classmates who had those advantages. We must take action, and quickly, to bridge the digital divide.”
She added, “The Southern Education Foundation is tracking these rapidly changing developments, and we seek to provide relevant resources to school administrators and policymakers as they make decisions about how best to serve students.”
*Curious to learn the facts about household computer usage and access in America? Dig into the statistics of the most recent US Census report here.
The Southern Education Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supported by partners and donors committed to advancing equitable education policies and practices that elevate learning for low-income students and students of color in the southern states. We develop and disseminate research-based solutions for policymakers and grow the capacity of education leaders and influencers to create systemic change.