How High-Speed Internet is Improving Education in Rural Schools
Many schools today look a lot different than they used to. High-speed connectivity is encouraging the adoption of 1-to-1 laptop and Bring-Your-Own-Device programs in schools, as well as reputable online learning programs like the Khan Academy, a well-known video lecture site for classroom instruction. But where technology and a broadband connection are having a huge impact in education are in the schools that reside in the most remote parts of the nation. These are communities where miles and miles of land might separate one household from its closest neighbor, or where harsh weather or terrain conditions make it difficult to trek to school.
One such school district that has seen tremendous learning opportunities spring from improved internet access in the past decade is the Lower Kuskokwim School District in Alaska, which serves 22 remote villages--with some schools serving as few as 15 students. The district faced challenges that included staffing schools with high-qualified teachers, and serving a student body largely made up of Alaskan Natives who often struggle with language, economic, and distance barriers.
This is when GCI—Alaska's largest ISP—came in and invested in TERRA, a large project that included a massive buildout to provide terrestrial, low-latency broadband services for rural areas in Alaska. Though the undertaking was difficult--which included flying in helicopters and working in often tumultuous climates--the results speak for themselves. The district now has the largest two-way interactive virtual video conferencing system in the state, which allows for distance learning opportunities. Students can now take a range of courses from teachers and experts who can't necessarily visit their school sites every day. In addition, the native Alaskan teachers who do live in the villages now have access to online teaching certification programs that encourage them to continue their professional development and thus further student learning opportunities in their classrooms.
Then in Alabama, the Brewton School District received a boost when Mediacom brought their broadband up to speed with an upgraded internet connection and updated technology. The district, which is a good two and a half hours away from the next major city, was struggling to conduct online testing for its students with its previous network, and with only one IT director for the schools, any mishap would cause the entire district to lose connectivity for weeks on end. Mediacom's intervention allowed the school to develop an e-learning curriculum and to proceed with online testing as the ISP ensures constant monitoring and maintenance of the network for optimal internet performance.
South Dakota's largest school system, the Meade School District, also felt the impact of the rehaul of their internet connection when Midco expanded their services into their remote region of the state last year. The students in the district are now accustomed to connecting virtually with other classrooms, teachers and speakers, as the upgraded internet connectivity has allowed for access to an array of educational resources online. As the school superintendent Jeff Ward said,"Our rural schools sometimes get forgotten. There aren't as many students out there, but they're just as important ... And the teachers that are out there deserve to be able to put those tools in front of the students and be able to have that access, which means that we have to have access to the service before we can provide that to our students in our rural schools."
While the buildout is not without its challenges, America's ISPs are committed to expanding connectivity to every region in the country, no matter how remote or isolated a community may be. Closing the digital divide takes time and great effort, but we'll get there.
To learn more about how ISPs are touching some of the most remote areas on the map—from education to healthcare to the economy and more—visit NCTA’s web page dedicated to connectivity in rural America: https://www.ncta.com/rural