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Back-to-School with Broadband and Your Tablet

September 11, 2012

By now most retail stores have dismantled their back-to-school display and put up a Halloween one. Left over, perhaps, are a few boxes of crayons, a glue stick or two, maybe several dozen wide-ruled notebooks, and …

Ipads?

Well, maybe there aren’t any leftover, but tablets, notebooks and e-readers are certainly part of the back-to-school routine for a growing number of students. Increased access to broadband has transformed the nation’s classrooms and, increasingly, the contents of students’ backpacks – and not only in the nation’s top tech hubs.

In Marshall County, W. Va. students at Bishop Donahue High School won’t be using textbooks this year. Instead, they’ll have an iPad. In Lawrence Township, N.J. students use broadband connections to Skype with students in Taiwan. The school’s director of instructional services said, “[Our students] don’t realize how great the distance is between our schools. They realize how small the world is because of our technology.”

Programs in cities across the country are using these devices to develop students’ entrepreneurial skills. According to Education Week, “A growing number of after-school programs for boys and girls that draw on students’ interest in applications for mobile devices are evolving throughout the country. Such programs can be a gateway to learning computer programming, as well as business and marketing lessons, which educators believe equip students with lifelong skills to succeed in college and the workforce. Some of the programs aim especially to engage girls.” Schools or programs that can’t quite afford a tablet or computer for every student have integrated e-readers into their libraries. (For schools that are interested, The Unquiet Librarian can show them how.)

Interested to know whether the schools in your area have access to broadband? The U.S. Department of Education has an interactive map that will tell you. The coverage is impressive, but there is still a lot of work to do. According to a 2010 Federal Communications Commission study, only 80 percent of school say the broadband service they have is sufficient to meet their needs – so even though the map is well-covered (students looking at it 10 or even five years ago would have seen much more white space), lawmakers must do whatever they can to bring down the barriers to broadband investment. That means leveling the playing field between public and private broadband investors.

And, of course, making certain taxpayer dollars are spent only in areas were private service does not exist, means more revenue for schools to spend on essential school supplies like computers, e-readers and iPads.