In the U.S., kids can’t wait for better internet to get their schoolwork done

Satellite broadband’s unique digital inclusion capabilities help level the field for students

children on computers doing homework
Since almost all students have some component of their schoolwork online, households without fast internet can be left behind.

The growth of technology is expanding all the time, and American schools are no exception. Today, 94 percent of schools meet the connectivity goals set by the federal government, up from only one in four schools that had access to internet speeds of at least 100 kbps per student just five years ago.

But that still leaves a lot of schools and their students behind, especially when they’re not at school.

Online programs are rapidly taking the place of textbooks, pens, paper and calculators. Many teachers use the internet for more than research. They set up group chats for conversations, group projects where each student must upload his/her portion of an assignment into a shared folder, and offer virtual feedback. They also use it for including parents in the virtual classroom and making them part of their student’s education.  The student and parent activities don’t just take place at school. More than 70 percent of teachers assign homework that must be done over the internet and parents can now participate while at work or at home in the evening.

Connected schools, unconnected homes

That’s a lot of homework for the 29 million U.S. households with children ages 6 to 17. However, not all of those children will be able to sit down at a desktop or laptop at home and do their homework. More than five million of those households don’t have regular access to broadband at home. Many can’t afford it, and others live in areas where fiber and cable aren’t available or are too expensive for providers to build infrastructure to deliver service. This deficiency has come to be known as the Homework Gap, and it is a definite setback for those students who are living it every day.

Recent studies show that nearly all students (96.5 percent) [need to reconcile with 7 in 10 number above] are required to access the internet for assignments. One-third of those students say they have internet homework assignments daily, while another 42 percent say they have internet homework every few days, and reliance on the internet to communicate is only increasing each school year. That’s a big challenge for students and families that can’t complete these assignments at home. Teachers assume kids will have access to high-speed internet at home, yet more than four in 10 students say they’ve gotten a lower grade on coursework because they couldn’t get it done without internet service. And eight in 10 students see lack of high-speed internet access outside of school as a significant disadvantage.

This is happening as more jobs, professions and trades rely on high-speed internet to be competitive. The U.S. Department of Labor reported that, for elementary-aged students, 65 percent of the jobs in their future have not even been invented yet. Even for existing occupations, including teachers, the reliance on technology and high-speed internet access increases daily, requiring constant updates in learning and training.

Not just the homework

Apart from missing assignments or not having the same opportunities to review material taught in class, after-school online assignments and research give students the opportunity to garner the skills and experiences they need to function in a world with advancing technology. This creates another disparity: students without the knowledge and expertise in using the internet not just as learning tools, but communications and job skills tools, will fall further and further behind, in school and preparing for the job market of the future.

Students and their parents know this, and most are doing all they can to keep up. Many go to school early, skip lunch, and stay after school to work on assignments. Others spend a lot of time at the local library, where demand for a computer is high, and they must wait in line for a device to become available. Some sit in cars at night with a laptop to use a local business’ Wi-Fi after hours. Some have parents who work after hours and can’t pick them up from school or take them to the library or Wi-Fi hotspot. In any instance, doing homework for these students is often inconvenient, problematic, and sometimes risky.

Parent Involvement

It’s not just teachers and students who are getting more involved in education, it’s parents too.  Many teachers and students communicate real-time during the day with parents to let them know what’s happening in the classroom or how to become involved in their child’s education in other ways.  Parents are also taking a larger role in the direct education of their children outside of school, needing internet access to understand assignments themselves, keep track of grades, and keep up with school events and social activities.

A satellite solution

This is where reliable, high-speed internet via satellite can offer up the clearest benefits in the shortest time. Viasat’s satellites reach almost everywhere in the U.S., offering service to the most remote households and communities. Often times, fiber and cable providers find it too expensive to reach just a few homes in a spread-out community. Even with financial viability, there is a significant time lag to build the infrastructure, lay fiber or cable and supply the service.

Satellite, on the other hand, takes just a few days from sign up to sign on. ViaSat-1 and ViaSat-2 are providing service today, making digital inclusion nearly instantaneous.

Time is important to those millions of students missing homework assignments daily or weekly. With 35 percent of students expressing an interest in a technology-based career, like computer coding, computer science and software development, success is possible with satellite-delivered broadband. So, accessing a dependable internet connection can help students, teachers, and parents, not just with today’s homework assignments, but with their futures as well.

Carley Brennan
About Carley Brennan 8 Articles
Carley Brennan manages the corporate advocacy program – faces of the digital inclusion – at Viasat. Over the next few years, she is traveling across the world to tell the stories of those isolated by the digital divide while highlighting the power of satellite to connect the unconnected.