Students Need Broadband Access in the Classroom and at Home
As a grades 6-12 school librarian, I certainly understand the need for our students to have convenient Internet access. Not only is the Internet necessary for assigned research projects, our students use it for college applications, academic tutorials, and communication.
We are fortunate in our system in that we have numerous computers and broadband access. Although we are not yet a one-to-one school, computers are networked in every classroom as well as the library. We are relying more and more on laptops and netbooks to improve the student/computer ratio. We have wireless access throughout the school. It is available from the library to the classrooms to the gym. You can even access it in the cafeteria!
Obviously, our school is able to meet the technology needs of our students within the school. The problem arises when the final bell rings at the end of the day.
We are a very poor, rural school system. Almost 70% of our students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Even if we were able to send the students home with laptops, they would not be able to afford Internet access. These students are at an obvious disadvantage over their more affluent classmates. Unless they are given time during the school day, they are unable to complete the research necessary for success in their classes.
The public library, which is the only place outside of the school with free Internet access, is not readily available to most of these kids. As I stated, we are a rural district. A majority of our students are bused from outside of town and have no way to get to the public library from home. I have experimented with keeping the school library open before and after school, but the same problem arises. The kids have no choice but to ride the bus, so they cannot take advantage of the extended hours.
In order for our students to successfully meet the challenges of the 21st century, they must have equal access to information that their peers in urban environments can take for granted. With the continuing decrease in cost, we are almost in the position that we can "check-out" netbooks to the students for home use. We cannot, however, guarantee that they can be used effectively in the home due to the lack of Internet access.
As a nation, we rely more and more on the Internet for our communication needs. Without broadband access, we are leaving a large portion of our citizenry behind. Once again, we are becoming a nation of "haves" and "have-nots." This is not acceptable in a nation that is supposed to lead the world into the future.
Elaine Willis is a school librarian and blogs at http://drewillis.edublogs.org/. You can also follow her on Twitter @ElaineReads