TOM WILLIAMS: Keep up momentum to spread broadband to all students

Posted June 3, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT

Episode 135 Education Matters: COVID-19 Budget and State Decisions Update

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is Tom Williams' "Final Word" from the May 30, 2020 broadcast of Education Matters - "Remote Learning Without Access: Workarounds From Rural Communities, Part 2." Williams is chairman of the Public School Forum of North Carolina.

As the traditional school year winds down, and as our students, teachers, and parents transition to new summertime routines based on COVID-19 guidelines, this time presents our state with a natural opportunity to reflect and take stock of what’s worked well, what lessons have been learned and what improvements need to be made to advance the positive impact of remote learning in our Kindergarten through twelfth grade public schools.

Without a doubt, this pandemic and the severe and sudden disruption it has caused across all sectors of our country has brought to the forefront the reality of just how central technology has become to the everyday life of not only adults but our K-12 students as well.

In the early days of technology, it was all about the software and devices -- and the power they offered to run programs and increase productivity. Today, while the power of the device and the software still matter, it’s equally essential that the basic infrastructure for network connectivity across our state provides for high-speed internet capabilities that are available to every student across North Carolina, so that every child can have an equitable opportunity to be fully engaged in their classes and academic work.

Unfortunately, we know that when this crisis took hold, approximately 40% of households, or 197,000 students lacked access to high-speed broadband internet, presenting a formidable challenge to accessing a sound basic education during COVID-19.

But we also know that there have been heroic efforts made by teachers, parents, and communities to overcome this great challenge. Learning packets have been distributed, countless devices have been loaned, WiFi hotspots have been distributed, and community WiFi solutions have helped to fill in the gap. Internet service providers have offered educators and families discounts and increased bandwidth.

While we still have a long way to go to ensuring all of North Carolina’s children have equal access to high speed internet — a critical means of ensuring everyone has a shot at accessing a sound basic education — it’s clear we’re making progress in rapid and substantial ways.

Let’s keep up this momentum by turning this current crisis into a golden opportunity to assure all North Carolinians have availability and accessibility to broadband connectivity.

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