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Why internet
access for students
should be reliable
and secure

Author: Phil Muncaster

For many, internet access for students at home is taken for granted. Until recently, service interruptions for most were a minor annoyance rather than something for parents to worry about. The pandemic changed this completely. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, it "changed education forever," revealing both equity issues regarding who has access to the internet at home, and also the benefits of online learning for student information retention and time consumption.

It's become clear that reliable, secure and robust internet access for students is a prerequisite for positive teaching outcomes.

The importance of internet access for students at home

Even before the pandemic, technology had become a bigger part of the school day, mainly in the context of classroom-based teaching. When COVID-19 struck, an estimated 1.2 billion children globally were affected by school closures.

Remote learning is predicated on reliable and secure internet access for students. They need it to access online education apps and learning resources. Typical tools and scenarios to support internet access for students at home include:

  • Discussion boards
  • Virtual assessments
  • Videoconferencing-based classes
  • Document and video sharing
  • Apps for assigning and receiving classwork
  • Web access for researching assignments

The impact of the pandemic

The pandemic had a major impact on K-12 student learning. According to scholars from Brown University, the University of Virginia and the Northwest Evaluation Association, students began the 2021 school year with an average of 66% of the learning gains in reading and 44% of the learning gains in math, relative to the gains for a typical school year. Meanwhile, the Economic Policy Institute suggests that the most substantial impacts of the pandemic on education relate to equity, as they found that 16% of responding eighth grade students do not have a desktop or laptop computer at home on which to follow their classes. They also found that only 61% of parents whose families received free or reduced-price meals during the school year reported receiving school meal assistance during closures.

Additionally, prior to the pandemic, an estimated 16 million out of 50 million U.S. schoolchildren lived in households without internet access, a digital device or both. As of September 2020, when three-quarters of the nation's 100 largest school districts switched to remote learning, tens of thousands of students were reported absent.

Even when they can log on, poor connections can interrupt the student learning experience. Spotty internet can also make it difficult for teachers to communicate with and keep students motivated.

In short, the pandemic revealed the importance of:

  • Cost-effective, reliable and robust internet connectivity for all students
  • Schools as institutions that mitigate equity issues
  • Connectivity that travels with students, as some families moved out-of-state so grandparents could help with child care
  • Simple setup and ongoing management for families

Why 4G and 5G matter

As hybrid learning becomes more prevalent, 4G and 5G networks have become increasingly important for students at home looking to connect to class. These networks can offer the reliability and speed to support remote learning applications.

Options to combine voice and data on the same network can help further reduce costs for the schools and help improve the student experience. Connectivity of this sort can be provided through low-cost MiFi units.

Securing internet access for students at home

One other area of concern for remote learning is security. Publicly disclosed cyber security incidents in K-12 schools increased 18% between 2019 and 2020, as threat actors looked to exploit security gaps in remote learning ecosystems. Districts have been on the receiving end of data breaches, ransomware, denial of service (DDoS) attacks and much more.

For that reason, security must also be built into any connectivity plans. Consider:

  • Mobile device management software for MiFi or school-issued devices
  • Secure Web Gateway (SWG) options to help protect connected users and devices
  • Cloud-based domain name system (DNS) security services, which block users from visiting suspect sites

By factoring in these considerations, schools and educational organizations can help teachers, students and families stay connected, improve access to quality education and help ensure positive learning outcomes.

Find out how Verizon supported connectivity for Fort Wayne Community Schools.