Closing the Digital Divide in Schools with E-Rate

Knowledge is power. It’s an old axiom, but its relevance today is self-evident. The relationship between education and socio-economic status (SES) is well established. In our technology-driven world, educational equality is synonymous with access to the internet and sophisticated digital learning tools.

Why? At its most fundamental level, the internet is a source of information (i.e. knowledge). The challenge is providing equitable access to it. Although we generally think of online access as a ubiquitous resource, the digital divide has demonstrated otherwise.

Initially coined in the late 1990s, the term digital divide refers to inequity between groups who have internet access versus those who do not. Relative to education, schools that fall into the have-not category are at a stark disadvantage. Thankfully, E funds are available to narrow the gap.

How E-Rate Can Act as an Equalizer in Schools

Because taxpayer dollars support public schools at the local level, schools in low SES neighborhoods have less money for just about everything. When it comes to internet access and digital learning tools, this paucity is felt particularly keenly. As any teacher or parent of a K-12 school-aged child knows, learning is practically impossible without reliable internet. Textbooks, homework, and even tests are now predominantly online.

Yet 30% of all public school students live in households without an internet connection or a device adequate for distance learning. This places an even higher burden on schools to help close the digital divide– they’re both a metaphorical and literal line of demarcation on the access frontier.

The E-Rate program addresses the digital divide by providing funds to schools in disadvantaged and low SES areas throughout the country. Its goal is to facilitate equality in education, so all students are set up for success after graduation. This invaluable funding source enables schools to obtain the products and services necessary to support broadband, Wi-Fi, and associated digital learning tools.

Although the E-Rate program has existed since 1998, as an IT network operator and administrative leader, you may be wondering if your school is leveraging this resource to maximum advantage and if it can make a difference in your ability to close the digital divide. We’re here to say yes… if you have an E-Rate-eligible solution from a trustworthy technology partner.

What E-Rate Eligible Technology Can Accomplish

Although it may sound like the proverbial chicken and egg problem (or the modern version – which came first, the internet or the information?), the right technology can make a significant difference in your school’s contribution to closing the digital divide.

Here’s what Jill Pierce, Chief Technology Officer of McMinn County Schools, had to say on the matter,

“Our district benefited tremendously from E-Rate. We would not have been able to afford a total network overhaul without E-Rate funds. E-Rate enabled us to implement an entire new network infrastructure that is allowing us to pursue 1:1 computing and offer our students more resources to enhance their learning. E-Rate levels the playing field. It brings funds to schools so they can implement resources that would have otherwise been nonexistent.”

The benefits of a dependable, E-Rate-eligible network solution are extensive:

  • Overcome disadvantages and promote inclusivity by incorporating different learning styles while simultaneously improving collaboration among students of all backgrounds.
  • Prepare students for future opportunities in higher education and employment with self-guided tutorials, onscreen interviewing, and group conferencing so they’re well-equipped to succeed in today’s hybrid world.
  • Facilitate meaningful connections between faculty, students, and their families with a network capable of handling the steadily increasing demand for remote, face-to-face interactions that accommodate everyone’s busy schedule.

As we’ve established, funding from E-Rate is available. But there’s more nuance involved in effectively narrowing the digital divide. To make the most of the budget, schools need a vendor that has many eligible platforms on the E-Rate program list. Their solutions have to be powerful enough to support all critical online products, services, and connectivity demands, so your students and faculty can learn and teach on a level playing field.

Why Reliable Connectivity Matters

Students in marginalized school districts are at a distinct disadvantage relative to upward economic mobility. Consistent online connectivity can address this challenge by fostering community connectivity which leads to better networking and overall opportunities.

With a reliable connection to the network, students and faculty can come together to provide and share material faster and more efficiently. This necessitates a high-performance network with:

  • Increased bandwidth: It should enable you to triple your existing network bandwidth.
  • Easily supported, high-speed wireless connectivity: You need fast log-on, uploads, and downloads.
  • No system operation issues: This will build and improve trust in IT among faculty and leaders and make it easier for small IT teams to manage the network.

Schools are a vital component of the village it takes to raise today’s children to become tomorrow’s successful adults. Technology delivers the tools your scholastic team needs to become an actual support network for them – connectivity brings us one step closer together and one click closer to closing the digital divide.

Where You’ll See a Difference with Extreme Networks

Extreme Networks has been involved with the E-Rate program from day one. We have over 20 years of experience helping schools use E-Rate funding to digitally upgrade. With the eligible E-Rate networking products your school can connect with an entire dedicated K-12 State, Local, and Educational (SLED) team and specialists. Our dedicated SLED team can simplify the E-Rate filing process so you can get the best for your network faster.

Our solutions are highly scalable, seamless, and secure. Mobile Wi-Fi connectivity removes frustration, so your faculty and students always get the most out of the learning process. We ensure safe and secure student and faculty connections via our remote learning portable branch kits and remote access kits. Integration with student directories personalizes the learning experience, and students and staff have bandwidth when and where they need it.

Deployment is simple, and we’re there to walk you through every step of the way. When it’s time to upgrade, our experts make sure your school can continue to get the most out of E-Rate funding and discounts.

To learn more about the difference Extreme Networks makes and how we can boost your school’s efforts to close the digital divide, check out our E-Rate Resource Center to find more information.

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