Districts Need to Set Up Wi-Fi for Learners in Low-Income Neighborhoods

Learners who live in poverty are among the many at-risk learners in the public school system. There is extensive research to show that learners from low-income families struggle more with behavior and academics for various reasons related to poverty. Often, this means that learners who come from poverty are left behind in the classroom.

Most learners whose families live below the poverty line also don’t have internet access at home. This makes all kinds of problems as well. Learners who have access to the internet can go home and get online to work on homework, do research, or learn about something they’re interested in for fun. Learners without the internet may struggle with completing assignments or feel stuck when they can’t get easy homework help.

As more and more educators give homework assignments that require internet access, the problems made by the digital divide get bigger. When learners are expected to use the internet just to complete their assignments, those learners who can’t get online inevitably get left behind.

So what can districts do to help learners whose families can’t afford the internet? One solution is to provide Wi-Fi for them, for free. This sounds ambitious, but it may be one of the best methods educators have to fight the cycle of poverty.

We know that there are millions of families with school-age kids who don’t have internet access. Most all of these families lack internet access because they can’t afford it. We know that this creates problems for learners in school. So why not eliminate these problems by providing internet access to needy families?

A simple way to target families who cannot afford internet access would be to give free Wi-Fi to learners in public housing. Public housing is home to families that live below the poverty line. The government gives assistance with housing for these residents, who must meet income requirements.

Giving Wi-Fi to learners in public housing is the first step for districts looking to close the digital divide. Public housing developments have a huge concentration of low-income learners and families, and setting up the infrastructure required for free internet access would be easiest here.

The benefits of giving free Wi-Fi to learners are numerous. Learners would be able to finish the homework on their own time. They would also build crucial digital literacy skills that their peers with easy access to Wi-Fi already have.

Consider the number of school districts successfully implementing similar programs. Kent School District in Kent, WA, built kiosks that provide free Wi-Fi for learners in public housing, and they’ve had success with learners using the kiosks. Families use Wi-Fi to check learners’ grades and stay in touch with schools, and learners use it to do homework.

Other districts have tried similar approaches. In Coachella Valley Unified School District has placed free Wi-Fi on school buses. Learners can get online during the ride to or from school. The buses are parked in trailer parks where most families don’t have internet access. The program has been a success, and it’s given internet access to learners who need it most.

As internet access becomes more important to learners, districts must take the steps necessary to ensure all learners can get online. For school districts where learners can’t afford Wi-Fi at home, providing it free to those families who need it may be the only solution that ensures all learners have equal access.

Do you think school districts should provide Wi-Fi for learners in public housing? Let us know what you think school districts should be doing to close the digital divide.

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