Under-Connected Families and K-12 Schools

Posted by Matt Berringer on February 24, 2016

mobile only

Key Takeaways for District Leaders

  • Ninety-four percent of U.S. families have some kind of internet connection at home.
  • 23 percent of families below the median income level, and 33 percent of those living in poverty, rely on mobile-only internet access.
  • Discounted internet programs that target low-income families are reaching very few.
  • A growing number of schools are purchasing mobile Wi-Fi hotspots and are loaning these to students who need them.

While most low-income families have some form of internet access in their household, a new report says many of these families are “under-connected,” relying on a smart phone with a data plan for their access—and this affects the kinds of online experiences their children have at home.

Opportunity for All?

Ninety-four percent of U.S. families have some kind of internet connection at home, according to “Opportunity for All? Technology and Learning in Lower-Income Families,” a report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. Even among families living below the poverty line, 91 percent are connected in some way.

But 23 percent of families below the median income level, and 33 percent of those living in poverty, rely on mobile-only internet access—a finding that has important implications for EdTech leaders.

The main reason some families do not have home computers or internet access is because they can’t afford it. Yet, discounted internet programs that target low-income families are reaching very few. Among families living in poverty, only seven percent had signed up for such a service, the survey revealed—and the quality of their experience was lacking.

Discounted Internet Plans: Theory vs. Practice

“I had (a discounted internet plan) because (my children) had assignments that they needed the computer for,” said one parent of a seventh grader in Colorado. “I hated it. It wasn’t working. It was too slow, it would freeze and they couldn’t get anything done. We had it for almost a year. I just got rid of it. I was paying $10 (a month) to not use it.”

Discounted programs intended for low-income families might not be working as planned, but there are some steps that EdTech leaders can take to make sure their students living in under-connected households aren’t at a disadvantage to their peers.

What Can Schools Do?

For instance, a growing number of schools are purchasing mobile Wi-Fi hotspots—such as the Kajeet SmartSpot, a MiFi device that connects to a Sprint or Verizon network—along with data plans and are loaning these to students who need them. In Green Bay, Wis., each of the district’s ten secondary schools have up to 25 mobile hotspots for students to check out (along with netbooks) so they don’t have to seek out a library or a coffee shop to complete their online work, Education Week reported.

At the very least, K-12 leaders should make sure the cloud-based resources they use in their district—such as instructional content, student information systems, and learning management systems—are accessible via mobile devices, so families whose only internet connection is through a mobile device with a data plan can experience these resources the same way other families do.

Dennis Pierce-footer

Topics: CTO, EdTech News and Info, Dennis Pierce