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Digital Access: An Education Technology Success Story?

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Back in 2013, before an overhaul of the E-rate program, just 30 percent of school districts were able to take advantage of digital learning. This year? That figure stands at a whopping 99 percent.

That's according to a new report from EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit that was a driving force behind the modernization of the federal E-rate program, one of the biggest success stories in education technology over the past decade. The nonprofit, which was founded in 2012 to expand broadband access across the country, has declared "mission accomplished" (well, almost) and is planning to sunset next year. (The federal E-rate program, which has been around since the mid-1990's, helps school districts and libraries cover the cost of broadband services and more.) 

So why does the non-profit feel that much of its work has been done? Here are some more striking statistics:

  • Back in 2013, 22,958 schools did not have the infrastructure required for digital learning. In 2019, that number is just 743. The biggest drop occurred between 2013 and 2015, when 9,500 schools developed the needed infrastructure.
  • About 46.3 million students have access to the broadband they need for digital learning. That's compared to just 4 million in 2013.
  • The cost of internet access has declined a whopping 90 percent since 2013.
  • 94 percent of schools report that digital learning is happening in at least half of their classrooms.
  • 85 percent of teachers support the use of increased digital learning in their schools.

There's more work to do, Evan Marwell, the founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway, said in an interview, in part because "one percent of kids remain on the wrong side of the digital divide," meaning they are still lacking the basic broadband.  "We've got to do our best to get them over the line."

And connectivity-wise, the vast majority of schools are at 100 kilobits, which means that teachers can engage in at least some online learning. But only 38 percent of schools are at 1 megabit, which is the speed that allows every classroom to be online at the same time, Marwell said.

But more importantly, many schools are still figuring out how leverage use technology to effectively boost learning, Marwell said.

"We're still in the early innings of figuring out what is the best way to use digital learning in the classroom," he said.

Photo Credit: Getty


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