The Disconnected Student

The promise of technology hasn’t revolutionized our schools like it has our homes and businesses. In the last three years over $5.5 billion of venture capital funding has been invested in EdTech startups. There is a great deal of innovation occurring, and new tools are coming online every month to help teachers and students.

But most schools and students have a hard time accessing new tools. Only 39% of our schools have wifi and just 19% have a device for every student. According to the White House, over 60% of schools don’t have the broadband they need to leverage today’s EdTech tools.

How are our teachers supposed to integrate adaptive technology into the classroom if they can’t even get online?

Amazing resources like CK-12, (which offers adaptive math and science problem sets) or ReadTheory (which personalizes reading passages based upon a student’s comprehension ability) are simply not an option to teachers who don’t have access to the internet.

In 2014 the White House announced the ConnectED initiative, which aims to connect 99% of schools by 2018. The President repurposed some $2 billion of FCC funding to connect schools with high speed internet access.

But school connectivity is only part of the problem.

A majority of U.S. public school students live in poverty. Access to the internet is expensive, and for families who are worried about putting a meal on the table, it isn’t the priority. The Gates foundation found that 42% of teachers say their students don’t have sufficient access to technology outside of the classroom.

When I was working at a k-12 startup I was shocked to learn that 40% of students in the South Bronx don’t have a home. In working with students in Newark most of them had phones, but few had data plans. Can we really expect students to log onto to Khan Academy to learn about polynomials if they don’t have a place to sleep or a data plan to support it?

Some school districts are working hard to close the digital divide. Coachella Valley Unified School District now parks wifi enabled busses in communities so students can connect to the internet after school to complete their homework. They now provide 100% access to students in their district

Preparing our students with the skills they need to solve problems and participate in the digital economy increasingly relies upon an education driven by technology. For initiatives like CSNYC, which aim to bring computer science to every NYC public school student by 2020, internet access is a crucial prerequisite. Given that students in impoverished areas are more likely not to have internet connection at school or home they are being shut out of the digital economy.

The digital economy is where most of the growth in our economy is projected to take place over the coming decades. By 2020 it is expected that there will be one million more jobs in technology than people to fill them. Even today, there are 13 positions for every five people in tech.

To close the opportunity gap, and provide every student with the tools they need to succeed, we need to get all of our students connected to the web.

In NYC that means expanding free public wifi to our poorest neighborhoods and increasing funding to keep school computer labs open late.