There is one key to ensuring the success of Connecticut students: we must keep them connected.
Whether your children are in fifth grade or freshman year, they have or will continue to learn virtually in some capacity, which means unstable Wi-Fi during class, delays in homework submission or inability to research are unacceptable.
While the long-term future of education remains in flux, COVID-19 has reinforced distance learning’s staying power, as well as its glaring inequalities. Last year, Hartford unveiled a plan to implement citywide Wi-Fi. That’s a great start, but Wi-Fi alone is not enough—we also need infrastructure to allow for robust wireless service.
The pandemic has only increased our dependence on technology. More than half of Connecticut residents have relied upon wireless or online technologies for education-related services during the COVID-19 crisis, according to recent survey data from the telecom industry. A vast majority believe distance learning is here to stay, with 72 percent saying that, regardless of reopening plans for schools, distance learning will continue.
But we don’t just rely on technology for education. From working from home to quarantine streaming, Connecticut residents are online more than ever. The telecom industry survey reported 76 percent of people in Connecticut said their wireless data usage increased during the pandemic. Even more critical, 81 percent then said that data usage was going to stay elevated or grow even more.
Closing the digital divide requires more than access to devices and Wi-Fi— It means networks need to be up to the challenge. Wireless data usage was surging even before COVID-19 hit. In fact, more than one third of Connecticut households are wireless only. This crisis has expanded the role wireless connectivity plays in every area of our lives from work, health and governance, to business, public safety and, of course, education.
It all leads back to a stronger wireless connection, which is achieved by upgrading our infrastructure. Connecticut cities and towns should not hesitate to work with telecom companies to pursue enhancements to their networks, including 5G, the next generation of ultra-high-speed, reliable connectivity.
The application of new technologies including 5G will help fill the educational gap in urban and rural areas, and 5G’s speed and reliability brings new opportunities for learning and discovery.
Augmented and virtual reality can provide new avenues for training and hands-on learning. Students can access information faster and experience new technologies more readily. Flexible learning opportunities also arise when a student can use a phone, tablet or laptop to access learning tools from anywhere and with anyone.
In our process of recreating the classroom experience, a clear, reliable connection is necessary when noticing subtleties like a teacher’s nuance, a student’s hesitation or the myriad of intangibles crucial to a quality education.
Distance learning also requires quality connection and speed to run advanced, data-heavy programs and lessons including STEM learning. Lack of connection creates an educational paradox —if we want kids to learn how to use cutting-edge technology, they need to utilize cutting-edge technology.
At Girls for Technology, we use an innovative approach to help close the technology and engineering gender and racial gap. We need accessible and functional resources to fulfill our mission of empowering young women in Connecticut to explore STEM.
But technology’s gender gap isn’t the only one we need to shut. We also must focus on providing underrepresented students with the resources they need to succeed, which begins with connectivity —specifically, making sure children in rural and urban communities alike have it.
Without it, the best device in the world is just a doorstop.
By upgrading wireless infrastructure in our communities, we give families more options for and access to better connectivity which is critical when some families are choosing between groceries and cable bills, and turning living rooms into classrooms.
In Connecticut, we are on the right track. But much more needs to be done. State officials must be engaged if we are to utilize the strength of the state to improve the infrastructure.
Along with local and state elected officials, community and business leaders must take initiative to support fifth generation infrastructure and wireless network upgrades. By doing so, we can ensure that 5G technology is positioned to advance educational equity and balance the digital divide.
Let’s cut through the red tape. It matters for equity, it matters for education, and it matters for our future.
Sabrina Tucker-Barrett is Founder, President/CEO of Girls for Technology.