Access to Digital Learning Resources: Where We Are Today

Written by Kajeet on May 24, 2018

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Every day, students face challenges with gaining access to digital learning resources outside of the classroom. 

When integrating digital learning resources in schools, educators face five questions:

  • How are students today using digital learning resources outside of the classroom?
  • What barriers keep students from accessing these vital educational resources?
  • What challenges do students without access to Internet at home face?
  • How do these barriers and challenges impact educational efforts?
  • How can national and state entities address these issues?

These five questions form the core of a recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)—part of the Institute of Educational Sciences (IES)—on the current state of student access to digital learning resources outside of a traditional classroom setting.

The NCES report on Access to Digital Learning Resources is an eye-opening, illuminating study that sheds light on the recent ed tech triumphs of school districts across the nation. (Note: The stats from the report mostly come from 2015, which is the most recent data available.)

It also doesn’t shy away from the hard work that has yet to be done in education.

While you can read the full report here, we’ve provided you with an insightful overview of the report: its purpose, core revelations, and the role mobile broadband plays in keeping students connected wherever they need to learn.

The Homework Gap Remains

The bad news is that, in 2018, the Homework Gap that separates students with and without Wi-Fi access at home still exists in the U.S. Perhaps more than anything else, it’s this drastic gap that poses the greatest danger to the future of education in this country.

According to the NCES study, only “61 percent of children ages 3 to 18 had Internet access at home” (even though “94 percent of children ages 3 to 18 had a computer at home”).

What’s more: the percentage of households with Internet access varies depending on location. In Mississippi, 62 percent of households have Internet access, while in New Hampshire and Washington, 85 percent of households have Internet access.

An entire section of the report covers the barriers keeping some households from providing Internet access to children. Of the barriers listed, the two most important ones are price and lack of interest.

In 2015, the two main reasons children ages 3 to 18 lacked access to the Internet at home were that access was too expensive and that their family did not need it or was not interested in having it… Internet access being too expensive was more commonly the main barrier for children from low-income families and for children whose parents had low levels of educational attainment than for other children.

Poor Access = Poor Learning

There’s long been a correlation between a child’s lack of access to digital learning resources outside of school and negative performance in the classroom. The NCES study corroborates this connection with some revealing research points.

  • Lower test scores. Test scores suffer without easy at-home Internet access. “Students without home Internet access had lower assessment scores in reading, mathematics, and science across a range of national and international assessments,” the report’s authors wrote.
  • Lower reading scores. Reading proficiency is in danger as well. Consider that, in 2015, “the average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale score was higher for 8th-grade students who used a computer at home than for those who did not use a computer at home… The average reading scale score was higher for 8th-grade students who had access to the Internet at home than for those who did not have access to the Internet at home.”
  • Lower tech proficiency levels. According to the study, “a higher percentage of U.S. 16-to-19-year-olds performed at the lowest proficiency level in problem solving in technology-rich environments than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

There’s also something of a vicious circle at work.

According to the report, a study of 36 elementary and secondary school teachers who created course websites found that “teacher perceptions that students could not access the Internet from home resulted in the majority of teachers not using such websites on a regular basis.”

If teachers assume not all of their students have Internet access outside the classroom, then they’re not making full use out of today’s digital tools, or reverting back to the pencil and paper days. But if students had equal access at home, it could change how teachers assign homework and projects.

States to the Rescue

The NCES study devotes an entire section to explicating the efforts conducted by state and local groups in 2015 and 2016 to increase access to digital learning resources and the Internet outside (as well as inside) the classroom.

The key to closing the Homework Gap is bringing the Wi-Fi to them. Mobile broadband can help students access the Internet (and the digital learning resources they need) anywhere there may not have high-speed Internet access.

The report calls out the Kajeet SmartSpot® and solution   as an example of district intervention programs at their best. The report cites our partnership with Cincinnati Public Schools as an example of how wireless routers help students access the Internet—and its accompanying digital learning resources— at home.

When Cincinnati Public Schools decided to offer partially-online advanced placement (AP) courses, the school system provided mobile hotspots, called Kajeet SmartSpots, to students who did not have home broadband access. These hotspots not only allowed students to attend their AP classes, but also to complete homework.

And our work with Cincinnati Public Schools was contagious. The NCES study also highlights how Green Bay Area Public Schools, inspired by what was happening in Cincinnati, allowed students in the school district to rent a SmartSpot laptop or other device the same way they’d borrow a book from the school library.

You can learn more about Green Bay Area Public Schools’ success in closing the Homework Gap with Kajeet and other great customer stories here.

Kajeet: A Piece of the Puzzle

The ever-expanding use of technology in education means that access to broadband Internet isn’t just a concern for schools—but for everyone.

As the introduction to the NCES study notes, “schools, teachers, communities, and families play a critical role in successfully integrating technology into teaching, learning, and assessment.”

Yes, reliable, safe, and fast Internet access is one missing piece in a much larger puzzle. But it’s a critical piece, and it’s one that Kajeet products and services are working hard to help fill.

Cincinnati Public Schools, Green Bay Area Public Schools, and other school districts across the country are closing the Homework Gap with the help of Kajeet Education Broadband™. If you’d like to join them and help your students succeed, let us know.

Topics: WiFi for Students, SmartSpot, Digital Learning


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