The Missing Piece

wifiHave you ever put a puzzle together only to find out that the last piece or two are missing? Without all of the pieces, you can’t see the whole picture, not to mention the frustration felt from being unable to achieve your goal. Think of education as a puzzle. There is a piece for each different component, but the “access to Wi-Fi” piece is either broken or missing completely.

In this day and age, students need Wi-Fi access at school. It’s as simple as that. They deserve education tailored to preparing them for their future, and that involves newer technologies. Whether they are taking an FLVS virtual course during the school day or needing to access the Internet for a biology project in a traditional classroom setting, Wi-Fi can strongly enhance the learning experience as it allows much more access to a variety of tools.

According to a blog post by Tom Wheeler, Chairmen of the FCC, nearly 60 percent of American schools do not have sufficient Wi-Fi capability! Think about that. I can go stand in line at a coffee shop with my phone, log onto its Wi-Fi network and respond to emails, but a student at the school down the street is waiting to get onto a desktop computer in the library. The kicker: he/she might even have a smartphone or tablet of his/her own in his/her backpack, but can’t use it. And what about the teachers and administrators? Imagine going to work each day and not having Wi-Fi access. How would your day change?

What makes the access piece so hard to find is the fact that the puzzle piece beside it is missing too – funding from E-rate. E-rate is a program that has helped schools and libraries get the wired broadband access needed, but not Wi-Fi. Though it’s been beneficial to the movement of digital classrooms, like many things in this world, policies have not kept up-to-date with Wi-Fi enabled innovations. In fact, E-rate funding for Wi-Fi was considered a secondary priority, and only funded if any dollars remained after funding top priority items. And let’s be honest, is there ever any money left over?

If schools do not have the infrastructure, course choice and personalized learning aren’t really an option. We need Wi-Fi in our schools, especially with more online standardized assessments coming down the pipeline. It’s time to modernize the E-rate structure, don’t you think? Chairmen Wheeler does too and that’s why he introduced a more current approach to the program during a Congressional hearing that would start to bridge the Wi-Fi gap and promote Wi-Fi in schools and libraries.

His proposal included three goals:

• Get high-speed Internet in all classrooms and libraries by 2019.
• Develop fairer program rules and allow funding to be available to more schools and libraries.
• Maximize existing funds by making the program more efficient for everyone.

I’m excited to say that on July 11, 2014, it was announced that this proposal was accepted!

Across the nation, education will continue to evolve. This news is especially good for the state of Florida. Not only do we have this new 2019-WiFi in all classrooms deadline, but we have a second deadline that’s quickly approaching. Last session, the Florida legislature voted to have half the classrooms in the state using digital materials by fall of 2015. This change in E-rate funding is a much-needed boost in order for the state of Florida to meet the goal of the digital materials bill. Thank you, Chairmen Wheeler, for spearheading this change and helping students, teachers, and administrators across the country add another piece to their educational puzzles!

Post by Holly Sagues, Former Executive Director of Governmental Affairs & Strategic Solutions

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