Schools must be wary of Internet expansion

This article was first published in USC’s Daily Trojan on Feb. 5, 2014. 

In the year 2000, a classroom computer was a luxury in my kindergarten class. Yet today as a college student, I feel like the odd one out if I don’t have my laptop out to surf the web in class. Computer technology and Internet access have grown considerably since the advent of the World Wide Web, and on Tuesday President Barack Obama said he has the resources to address the technological divide it has created in our schools.

Wendy Fu | Daily Trojan

Wendy Fu | Daily Trojan

In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama emphasized the importance of providing high-speed Internet access to more than 20 million U.S. students in 15,000 schools, according to The New York Times. To achieve this goal, the president announced his ConnectED initiative, which has pledged $750 million in public sector and corporate commitments. The Federal Communications Commission said it will double its contribution to $2 billion. The largest private donations are coming from Apple and Microsoft. And AT&T and Sprint have pledged to contribute free Internet service through their wireless networks.

“In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, we should definitely demand it in our schools,” President Obama said in an announcement on Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Education has conducted many studies showing that Internet access in the classroom not only makes instructional teaching more efficient and enjoyable, but that it also prepares students for the realities of higher education and the workforce. Computers also open up educational opportunities for those who rely on online classes or are unable to attend school on a regular basis. Yet, according to a statement by White House officials, Internet speed in 70 percent of U.S. schools is operating too slowly.

Within five years, the president seeks to connect 99 percent of the nation’s school-aged students to the Internet. Currently, only 20 percent of students have access. The fear of an established digital underclass in our educational system is currently a reality. In the digital divide, where some students have unrestrained access to Internet and others can rarely go online, the burden of responsibility often falls on government institutions and school systems.

Despite the excitement surrounding bringing all the nation’s schools into the 21st century by improving Internet connection, caution must still be taken — particularly when it comes to the financial and implementation factors.

In broad programs such as these, it is important to ensure that the public understands its monetary contributions. The private sector’s contributions relieve the financial strain on the public and will not require any additional taxes, White House officials said in a statement. Restructuring the E-Rate program will sufficiently fund the program. The E-Rate program was designed to connect schools, rural areas and low-income consumers to affordable telecommunications systems. As the program moves forward, however, taxpayers should ensure that changes in the funding program are not altered dramatically.

Further, the rollout for the ConnectED program must be handled efficiently. If not, federal officials could face the same headache the Los Angeles Unified School District did back in Fall 2013 with its iPad distribution. The first 47 schools to receive iPads reported problems ranging from missing and stolen iPads to students breaking the security barriers and browsing the Internet freely during class, according to the Los Angeles Times. As a result, school officials eventually banned the use of iPads outside of class, and it delayed other schools from receiving their tablets. The unintended consequences led to more energy being spent on solving problems than utilizing the technology available.

In the same way, government and school officials should consider how to regulate technology in the classroom once all K-12 students have broadband access. If not used for the sole purpose of learning, laptops and tablets can be a hindrance in a learning environment.

The government has taken a vital step in recognizing that every student’s learning environment is enhanced by Internet access. The next consideration now must focus on the implementation phase. No one wants technological glitches, especially when it comes to something as important as this.

Jordyn Holman is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Making the Grade,” runs Wednesdays.

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