Administration, General, Organization, Technology

How School Districts Are Ensuring Connectivity For The Future

Looking at education today it might be hard to believe but back in 1994 just over one third of K-12 schools had an internet connection. Only seven years later in 2001, 99% of schools had an internet connection. But not all internet connections are the same, though, and if you’ve ever given your home WiFi code to someone under the age of sixteen you’ve probably heard firsthand about how yours is lacking. Those early school connections were mostly dial up, impossibly slow to anyone who grew up afterwards, and comically slow to those of us who remember those good old days. That comparison just moves on — those early school broadband connections in the first years of the new millennium would certainly not be acceptable for entertainment now, and they’d be equally lacking for academic purposes. The bar just keeps getting higher.

These days a reliable internet connection is considered as essential as water and electricity for learning. It’s no longer a novelty, no longer an afterthought but an essential part of K-12 school infrastructure and one that must constantly be improved. One-to-one device initiatives, the growth of digital learning experiences, and increased personalized learning drive a demand for ever more speed and bandwidth in school networks. So how are districts ensuring connectivity for the future?

They Overshoot

A school or district that adopts one-to-one will need its bandwidth to grow 60% each year. That means that by the time a first grade class reaches sixth grade they will need 10x what they began with. This requires thoughtful investment in equipment that well overshoots present demands, or is at least readily upgradable. This can lower the costs while insuring some  future-proofing through expansion and minor swaps. The wrong choice, for sure, is to spend on infrastructure that will need total replacement. Every school has some room or closet full of old tech they can’t even get rid of.

They Stay on top of funding

Probably the most nationally well-known connectivity related program nationally is the E-Rate from the FCC. Since 1997 schools and libraries have benefited from this program which makes telecommunications and information services more affordable. The relief packages that came in the wake of the Coronavirus Outbreak have also jolted more funds into federal and state programs for both communications and hardware. Administrators, IT Staff, and other Central Office employees need to seek these out, they always have limits. The early bird gets the worm, as they say and successful, connected schools will not sacrifice an opportunity for improvement.

They Think Outside the Box

School connectivity paradigms that arose outside of the U.S, particularly in places where widespread internet first came with smartphones, have leap-frogged in some senses. In places like Brazil, 3G, 4G, and LTE have allowed for districts and schools to have robust and reliable connectivity from having none at all. One particular advantage of pushing the responsibility on Mobile Network Operators for school connectivity is their ability scale and their technical expertise. With or without schools they manage professional networks for millions of customers. And they are always planning for the future. Satellites are a pretty viable option nowadays too, as a district this side of the Americas demonstrates.

They Plan for Beyond School

If Covid-19 has done nothing else for education it’s demonstrated some of the benefits and possibilities of remote or at-home learning. It has also demonstrated vast shortcomings and accessibility gaps across the country in a readiness for such a shift. Many were calling for schools to address home connectivity long before Covid and, hopefully, this will remain in the conversation and planning. This “ubiquitous connectivity,” which can take the form of mobile hotspots, municipal WiFi, or broadband subsidies, helps to ensure that students who are expected to keep learning even beyond the doors of their schools aren’t limited by a lack of resources.

As of last month 67% of K-12 schools are currently short of recommended internet connectivity speeds. So it’s clear that school districts need to strongly consider both solutions and future connectivity. There will only be more devices, more possibilities, and more demand. We here at Script hope schools take the best steps now so that future students have the best opportunities. We’re always available to help districts and schools future-proof their paperwork.