The term “digital divide” best describes the invisible yet very real wall that separates the students and teachers of rural America from the rest of the country. The rural community of East Texas suffers from the lack of high-speed internet access at their homes and schools. Consequently, the next generation of East Texans entering higher educational institutions is not ready to meet the demands of the fast-paced, technology-driven world out there.
In this article, we will discuss the EdTech challenges faced by the students and teachers of East Texas and how the East Texas Fiber Project by National OnDemand can help turn things around for them by planting 3000+ miles of fiber optic cable and taking fiber to the home and schools.
EdTech Challenges Faced by Rural East Texas
Texas state laws recognize education as a basic right of all citizens and aim to provide all children with a basic level of education, whether they are based in Dallas or the city of Jacksonville. However, as technology becomes integral to the teaching-learning process, the educational divide in urban and rural regions is becoming more pronounced.
One-third of public schools of America are located in rural areas. Many schools in these regions are integrating latest technologies, like digital documents, interactive whiteboards, online libraries, and online college applications. However, the lack of a stable, high-speed internet connection at home is probably the biggest hurdle for a student in East Texas.
Let’s have a look at some crucial EdTech Challenges faced by the students and teachers of East Texas.
Slow and Expensive Internet Connections
As the world talks about 5G internet, the rural districts are still stuck in the age of dial-up internet. Luckily, the schools have managed to get internet access, but this connectivity ends with the school day. Most students live in remote areas where either internet connectivity is absent or the speed is excruciatingly slow. Internet connectivity via satellite can be an alternative; however, it is slow and beyond the affordability of customers in rural areas. Even when broadband internet is available, it is unaffordable for local farmers and ranchers.
The Homework Gap
According to a report by Common Sense entitled ‘The Homework Gap’, “Lack of access to computers and the internet limits learning, making it more difficult for children to keep up or develop the skills that are necessary for academic and professional success.”
“Students without broadband access are disadvantaged when their teachers are not able to assign homework that’s most relevant to or useful for them.”
The report further states, “Students without broadband access are disadvantaged when their teachers are not able to assign homework that’s most relevant to or useful for them.” Moreover, it has been observed that students with internet connectivity at home have scored comparatively better.
Teachers are unable to assign online assignments considering that all students won’t be able to do it. Even if the students manage to complete the homework, they struggle to upload on online portals before the deadline. Students can be seen studying desperately in school libraries or restaurants with a connection. As a last resort, parents decide to send their kids to urban areas with better connectivity, which can be emotionally and financially difficult for the children and their families.
Poor Access to Educational Opportunities
Not having an internet connection would mean that rural students would not only remain disconnected but will also miss the educational opportunities as most colleges and universities have completely switched to online applications. Students find themselves in a never-ending struggle when asked to upload documents online. Without stable internet access, students can’t participate in online contests and international competitions from home. They feel left out from class discussions and research. Students and their parents also remain disconnected from the student or parent portals, where the schools may update important information on a daily basis.
Inability to Engage in Distance Learning
The internet is full of online courses which are offered free of cost. There are YouTube channels where faculty members from renowned institutions are tutoring students in need. However, students and teachers of East Texas are unable to engage in distance learning and take its advantages. Teachers cannot access the countless teaching resources available online, which makes them follow conventional teaching practices.
Lack of Proficient Teachers
Another challenge is that rural schools often have a hard time recruiting proficient staff, as professionals face difficulty in settling in remote areas without high-speed internet. Teachers prefer working in more urbanized areas and towns with better connectivity. As a result, no extra classes are offered, and schools have to compromise on the quality of teaching.
What Fiber to the Home Would Mean For Students and Teachers
It won’t be an understatement to say that the East Texas Fiber Project by National OnDemand will revolutionize the lives of students and teachers. The project aims to provide Fiber to the Home (FTTH), which would replace the existing copper infrastructure and offer new and fast internet with higher bandwidth. With this development, students and teachers will now be able to access robust video, internet and voice services, changing the face of the current educational system in the region.
Impact on Lives of Students
With a high-speed internet connection, students will be able to access online resources, research materials, and more. It will bridge the homework gap, as students will be completing their assignments at home with ease. They will engage in self-learning through online channels and may enroll in the online programs offered by a number of universities. Students will also remain updated through school portals and connect to their peers via online discussion forums.
Impact on Lives of Teachers
Teachers can use the high-speed internet to find low-cost or free teaching materials, handouts, worksheets, teaching guides, and other resources. They can connect their classroom to the outside world. Lesson planning could become a breeze, and they will manage time more effectively. The internet would also play a part in motivating teachers and students. They will be able to communicate with educators around the world and even conduct online classes. They can receive appreciation by posting pictures and updates of the activities conducted in the classroom. In short, teachers will feel rejuvenated and would grow personally and professionally.