A U.S. Census Bureau report in 2020 reported that 93% of homes with school-aged children were participating in some form of remote learning. In addition, 80% of those learning resources were online (only 20% paper-based materials). Suddenly, the general public began to recognize the disparity around lack of access to the internet. As schools have become more tech-savvy over the past decade, there have been concerns around the “homework gap;” tales of students going to McDonald’s to access free internet to complete their homework assignments. However, with the general public shut down, even these free limited resources weren’t available. Furthermore, individual homes felt the crush of limited bandwidth as parents and caregivers plus often multiple siblings were all trying to access the internet for work and for school. Research from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that 14% of students, ages 3-18, in the U.S. did not have access to the internet at home (April 2020), meaning more than 9 million students had difficulty finishing their school assignments. And the reasons varied -- 34% couldn’t afford it, 4% didn’t have a computer, and 4% didn’t have internet connectivity available near them. Furthermore, 17% of households with children ages 3-18 didn’t have a laptop or desktop computer. Not surprisingly, this lack of internet access and devices increases for lower-income households.
The discrepancies also vary by race with Black, Hispanic, and American Indian students having much lower access to devices and the internet. The divide between urban and rural schools is a concern as well, which prompted the 2019 American Broadband Initiative, which focuses on expanding broadband connectivity in rural areas. Challenges around the lack of internet access also affects the homeless population, students living with often older relatives, and special needs students. Of note too, UNICEF reported that the lack of internet access at home balloons to more than ⅔ of children going without when you assess worldwide.
And while most schools have returned to a traditional school day, teachers, families, and students have learned how technology can aid personalized learning both at school and at home. While there may have been a lot of scrambling at the beginning, many districts have reflected on their lessons learned and have embraced the adoption of new technologies for teaching and learning. So while the school day may not be as interrupted by the pandemic, the need for consistent and reliable internet access is still top of mind.
Schools and districts have leaned into taking creative approaches to ensure that their students have the opportunity to learn:
Yet the advance of internet access is the opportunity to access content, tools, and experiences for learning anytime, anywhere. And many of the above solutions still required action on the part of parents or caregivers, whether it was to share a device or drive to a particular spot. What corporate entities have long discovered is the versatility of a personal hotspot for internet access.
A hotspot is a dedicated, physical device that allows one to connect wirelessly to the internet. The hotspot connects with a cellular signal and converts it into a Wi-Fi network. Nowadays, most can fit in the palm of your hand, making them super portable and non cumbersome. At 5-20 Megabits per second (Mbps), these devices allow an individual or family to seamlessly sync a smartphone, table, laptop, or desktop computer to the internet. Users can then browse the web, send/receive emails, participate in video conferencing calls, stream videos and music, and -- importantly for students -- download, complete, and upload school assignments.
While there are several hotspot providers, MAPLE has created a school-based solution by listening to the needs of parents/caregivers, educators, and students themselves. MAPLE’s turnkey connectivity for education provides hotspots that have been designed to meet schools’ unique needs, safeguarding access to the internet for school purposes:
The Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) has just released a third round of funding for such purchasing. MAPLE has been manufacturing hotspots since 2017 (learn more) and has re-architected their technology to lessen the number of components, meaning a shorter lead time. MAPLE provides secured and managed connectivity service that is coupled with award-winning and worldwide-patented Virtual SIM technology. Plus, the MAPLE team members are experts at how to secure ECF support.