There’s no doubt that the Internet has changed the nature of education. The advent of the digital age has revolutionized how information is taught, learned, and consumed in practically all facets of our daily lives — and school environments are no exception. It is common practice for educators to provide resources for their students. For some students, it’s a pencil or pen, or even notebooks to jot down notes during class. Today, the Internet needs to be included in these resources, as internet access in the classroom is an absolute must.
Contrary to popular belief, not all Americans have access to the Internet at home. To low-income families, or those living in extremely rural areas, internet access is seen as a luxury, not a necessity. Unfortunately, the 11 per cent of Americans who don’t use the internetare at a significant disadvantage in comparison to the rest of the country, where Internet access is indeed a necessity. As stated in this article by High-Speed Internet Deals, “The digital divide makes it difficult for students, job searchers, and workers because so many of today’s transactions and interactions take place, sometimes exclusively, online. Digital skills are irreplaceable for the modern workplace.” are at a significant disadvantage in comparison to the rest of the country, where Internet access is indeed a necessity. As stated in this article by High-Speed Internet Deals, “The digital divide makes it difficult for students, job searchers, and workers because so many of today’s transactions and interactions take place, sometimes exclusively, online. Digital skills are irreplaceable for the modern workplace.”
While United States school districts as a whole are taking steps to bridge this digital gap, there are still 2.3 million students on the other side of the digital divide without access to high-speed Internet, as well as 1,356 schools lacking in fibre-optic connections or other scalable broadband infrastructure. Considering these statistics, it is even more vital for educators to provide access to the Internet to all students in the classroom. After all, education is a basic right, and ideally, each student should have equal access to digital learning opportunities. Without internet access, students are often unable to complete assignments, undertake research, and have the freedom to learn beyond the classroom — putting them at an automatic disadvantage by no fault of their own.
To understand how educators can provide internet access for students, it is first important to understand the benefits of this access. As stated in an article as part of the Concept to Classroom Series, the internet “provides access to an amazing number of constantly updated and expanding resources and an incredible wealth of information.” Traditionally, schools rely on non-internet resources like videotapes, CDs, audio recordings etc. Due to budgetary constraints, a classroom can only have a finite number of these resources, which will soon become outdated. Internet access allows educators to draw upon updated resources that in turn allows students to engage in a contemporary and current education.
Secondly, the Internet allows for reduced time and location dependency. Both students and educators can interact with material and information from all over the world, essentially putting the world at one’s doorstep. In terms of time, the internet enables students to communicate with their teachers via email or online portals, giving them the ability to ask questions when they come to mind. This could free up classroom time that can be used to learn something new. Thus, the Internet greatly enhances the potential to expand a student’s learning time.
Finally, access to technology can be of great help to special education students. In an article published by the University of Cincinnati, experts state, “Special education students have traditionally had less chance of reaching their full potentials in classrooms because their learning styles or special needs vary so greatly schools have had difficulty meeting each of the different needs.” Internet access, however, allows for a personalization of education based on the needs of the student. For instance, consider the example of a student with autism who might find direct interaction difficult. “By incorporating communication technology, a teacher can enable the student to interact socially at a level that feels less intimidating to the child. This gives him a chance to become a part of the classroom,” states the article. Access to the internet and online learning aids allows special education students to achieve their full potential, rather than be hampered by their conditions.
In this way, it is easy to see how the lack of Internet access as a result of a family’s economic status and/or domestic living locations can negatively impact a student in the long run. While educators cannot possibly ensure that all students have access to the Internet at home, they can level the playing field by providing internet access for students at a school. To do so, educators must collaborate with policymakers and the community. Educators alone cannot implement widespread change, but by acknowledging the benefits of Internet access in the classroom, they can push for equal access and enhanced learning opportunities for all students.
The Internet Society lays out five priorities for the confluence of the internet and education; that educators and policymakers would do well to follow. These include infrastructure and access, vision and policy, inclusion, capacity, and content and devices. Obviously, the first priority is to ensure that suitable infrastructure and affordable access to the internet is put in place — else none of the gains outlined above can be realized.
First and foremost, educators and policymakers must come together to develop a regulatory framework that “that stimulates investment, competition, and lower access prices, perhaps including special access rates for schools and colleges.” Additionally, they should support community-based access initiatives, as well as R&D initiatives that explore various models for access and use.
As a more immediate solution, educators can connect students with diverse non-profits organizations like the Centre for Digital Inclusion that works to improve communities through information technology. Educators can also look for sponsors who are willing to provide students with internet-connected devices solely for educational use. Additionally, they can help organize local initiatives and fundraisers that attract sponsors and encourage them to donate funds that will be used to provide classroom access.
The Internet, when used intelligently, is a tool that can change the face of education. Universal access to the internet has the potential to combat gender and income inequality in education, providing opportunities to those who have traditionally been left on the sidelines. Thus, educators must work towards unlocking universal access to the Internet for the betterment of education everywhere.
Frankie Wallace is a freelance journalist from Boise, Idaho and contributes to a variety of blogs across the web.