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Connectivity for Students in Rural Communities

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, digital equity advocates in education sounded alarm bells about the long-term effects that lack of Internet access at home had on students, which is often referred to as the Homework Gap.

Statistics cited in 2015 by the FCC showed that while 7 in 10 teachers assigned homework requiring Internet access at home, 1 in 3 students did not have broadband Internet at home. This put them at a clear disadvantage when compared to their peers with Internet access, hurting their test scores and lowering their graduation rates.

In rural communities, the digital divide is even more problematic because of problems of access, high costs, lack of infrastructure, low adoption rates, and even absenteeism at school.

So how do students in rural, suburban, and urban communities generally cope without Internet at home? With surprising ingenuity, it turns out.

In addition to turning on their mobile hotspots, students without Internet access at home often resort to visiting fast food restaurants or other public places to get the WiFi they need to complete their schoolwork.

But these makeshift measures often mean staying out late, putting students at risk each time they leave their homes. Additionally, the “free” Internet services available in those public spaces are not designed for young, impressionable children and leave them open to unsafe and harmful content, if not unwelcome distractions.

In rural communities, these types of accommodations are even more difficult to execute. After COVID-19 and the restrictions on large congregations it has introduced, they’re almost impossible.

School district leaders across the country have been scrambling to solve the problem of digital access in rural communities for some time. The push to distance learning necessitated by COVID-19 has only increased the sense of urgency surrounding the issue.

In a blog post by Kajeet citing Future Ready Schools, the following were listed as challenges students in rural communities faced when trying to access the same resources as their peers in urban settings:

  • Rural school systems suffer from state funding systems that allocate funds based on the number of students in a given district.
  • Rural communities have to manage diseconomies of scale when it comes to the cost of shared resources, such as public transportation.
  • Rural communities often have a difficult time attracting and retaining high-quality teaching talent.

Our company, Kajeet, made it a core part of our mission to help schools close this digital divide. Roughly one third of the school districts we serve are in urban communities, one third are in suburban communities, and one third are in rural communities. One of the advantages of our Education Broadband™ solution is that a school district can have users across all major North American networks, not just one or two. In rural areas, this can make a real difference in broadening access to the Internet for a greater number of students.

Connecting all students in rural communities will not happen overnight, but we can still make meaningful strides toward progress.

To do so, we need to hear more about the challenges districts are facing with regard to connecting students in rural communities. We need to hear more from the students themselves, and their educators, about how efforts to help them are succeeding or failing. And most of all, we need to hear from our leaders about what commitments will be made to directing much-needed resources to rural communities.

Daniel J.W. Neal is the Chairman, CEO & Founder of Kajeet, a mission-driven company he first began dreaming about in 1996.  Before launching Kajeet, Daniel served as CEO & Vice Chairman of VCampus Corporation, a public company that pioneered the delivery of e-learning applications and services for students, business people and government workers. 

Hear more from Daniel on Reality Check w/ Jeanne Allen where he discusses what Kajeet is doing now to “bridge the digital divide” and what you can do to respond to or get help during this challenging time.

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