Finding Internet Access

Historically, technology at large (and the internet specifically) has been seen as having the power to democratize education and help place students of all socio-economic levels on an equal playing field.  In reality, that's far from the case.  While wealthier students are able to freely use the internet to their benefit, children from lower-income families struggle with finding access. Though the situation is far from ideal, there are ways these students can increase/enhance their usages.

To begin with, students can certainly turn to their schools or local public libraries. After all, both places traditionally have multiple computer stations and provide free access to patrons.  And, as an added bonus, libraries are a great place to concentrate and tackle work.  The only down side is that sometimes these places get crowded and/or limit the amount of time people can use the computers.

Beyond libraries, it's also become quite common for many local food and drink establishments to provide free wifi for their customers.  Students can easily walk into a local coffee shop, grab a sandwich and the password to log on.  Though some restaurants also attempt to limit the length of time patrons can linger, others will let them set up shop for hours (as long as something has been purchased).  While these places might be a tad more distracting than a library, they are still great options.  And they provide a relaxed working environment to boot.

Moreover, students with access to smart phones can use them to their advantage, converting them to wifi hotspots if needed.  In other words, by adjusting the settings, students can tap into the phone's online capabilities.  They simply connect their home computers with their phones and then log onto the internet.  However, it is important to be aware that not all service carriers allow customers to create hotspots for free.  Students and/or families with limited data plans will likely need to use this option sparingly.

Parents and educators can also ask students to identify other possible resources within their families or social networks.  Indeed, even if they don't happen to have strong (or any) internet access at home, they might have relatives or friends who do.  They can try and coordinate study groups with peers or ask an aunt/uncle, grandparent, etc. if they can use their computers for school assignments.  While this might not be wholly ideal, it's definitely an actionable step.

Additionally, some internet providers (though perhaps begrudgingly) have begun trying to address the problem.  For example, the cable giant Comcast offers a service called Internet Essentials which aims to offer low-income families inexpensive access to the internet.  The service is roughly $9.95 a month.  Though it's perhaps a good start, the connection provided through this program is known to be highly inefficient.

Importantly, there are also non-profits such as Connect2Compete that are working diligently to ensure families with K-12 students have affordable access to both the internet and the technological devices that connect them.  Even better, they also link up families with digital literacy training programs so parents and kids are able to use the internet safely and effectively.

Finally, teachers can also lend a helping hand.  They can try and schedule deadlines in such a way as to give students with limited internet access enough time to complete their assignments.  And they might also consider devoting some classroom time to the computer lab, which will provide students with additional opportunities to jump online.

There's no question that a lot more work needs to be done to expand access.  After all, the internet is a powerful educational tool.  And familiarity with technology is a necessity for so many employment opportunities.  While new programs and policies must be implemented, the ideas and options mentioned above are a good place to start.

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