California education officials working to equip all students with computers and internet at home announced a new initiative on Wednesday that could connect up to 1 million students with internet-enabled tablets during distance learning this school year.
Nearly 97% of California’s 6.2 million students will start the next school year from their homes as the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase across the state. But nearly 700,000 students are still without the technology they need in order to participate in online classes while schools are closed for in-person instruction, according to the latest estimates from the California Department of Education.
State education leaders have made closing the gap between students who have access to technology at home and those who do not — known as the digital divide — a priority since schools closed for in-person instruction in March. On Wednesday, those efforts got a major boost from Apple and T-Mobile, which have agreed to provide discounted iPads with built-in LTE internet for up to 1 million California students. School districts will buy the devices and provide them free of charge to students.
“As Californians, we have a shared commitment to ensure every student has access to the basic tools needed to connect to their learning, succeed in today’s world, and pursue their dreams,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. “This commitment provides schools across the state a unique chance to put devices in the hands of students now, while potentially making longer term investments that can help us remove these inequities once and for all.”
At least 100,000 iPads will be ready for districts over the two months in time for back to school, state education officials said, and the companies will continue to fill requests while supplies are available through the end of 2020. The cost will vary depending on district size and needs, but administrators can expect to pay around $580 per student, officials said.
That’s a significant amount of money, especially for districts strapped for resources during the coronavirus pandemic, some viewers pointed out during a webinar on Wednesday when the deal was announced. Chromebooks, another popular computing device used in schools, start at $179. However, that does not include separate internet subscription costs.
Districts hoping to get these devices into students’ hands before school starts in only a couple of weeks can apply for funding to help make purchases. Nearly $5.3 billion is available in one-time state funding through the CARES Act, and districts can use these dollars in a number of ways to prevent learning loss during the pandemic, including purchasing technology and internet access for students during distance learning.
This year, school districts will be required to confirm whether students have access to the technology they need in order to fully participate in distance learning, according to requirements included in the 2020-21 state budget.
Many school districts still need to find computers and internet service for students before the new school year begins. But many stores and distributors are waiting for devices such as Chromebooks, laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots to restock, causing major delays in filling orders.
State officials on Wednesday said it would take an estimated 12 weeks before more distance learning equipment could be available in such large numbers.
“We know there has been a rush and demand for hotspots, and in many cases, there has been nothing available for weeks,” Thurmond said, noting that some districts do not use Apple hardware or might prefer to wait until other products come back in stock. “We don’t want our students waiting for 12 weeks to have access to a great machine that allows them access to distance learning.”
T-Mobile’s service area covers large swaths of California, but coverage maps show that there are still large pockets not served by the cellular company. Providing internet in those areas will still require longer-term solutions like building out broadband infrastructure, Thurmond said.
“Coverage maps are grossly misrepresented,” one attendee, Joseph Robert Silveira, said in a comment during the webinar on Wednesday. “It says my district has full coverage, but if you take a T-Mobile hotspot in my district there is very little coverage anywhere.”
In areas that T-Mobile does not serve, the company will work with school districts to connect the iPads with service from other providers, according to Michael Kantz, executive vice president of T-Mobile for Business.
“If districts can share where student addresses are before deployment, we can tell you in advance where we cover and where we don’t so we can get the correct solution to students the first time,” Kantz said. “Education is the great leveler in our society, but only if everyone can access it.”
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Brett Gordon 3 years ago3 years ago
Internet and the tools to access the internet have become a vital part of education today. Especially now that we are in a pandemic and some classes are still being held remotely. The government needs to invest more in internet infrastructure in order to make internet connectivity more accessible and affordable. The internet is a vital resource for all nowadays and it’s one of the biggest investments the government should make in the years to come.
sam mar 3 years ago3 years ago
Finally, we receive good news from California’s public education system.
But the school standards lag behind most schools in Asia, as most Asian students are required to have an understanding of robotics, genetics, software engineering, physics and entrepreneurship by 8th grade. California children, good luck in the new advanced global economy; your public education system set you up to fail miserably.
Paul 3 years ago3 years ago
For a first-world country, it is shameful how far behind we are technologically. At a societal level, we should have invested in affordable, fast, nationwide Internet access two decades ago. Just like textbooks, tablets or laptops should have been furnished to all public school students who need them. We, as voters, taxpayers and decision-makers should have taken the initiative and been willing to spend our money. This was always too important to be left to "charity" … Read More
For a first-world country, it is shameful how far behind we are technologically.
At a societal level, we should have invested in affordable, fast, nationwide Internet access two decades ago. Just like textbooks, tablets or laptops should have been furnished to all public school students who need them. We, as voters, taxpayers and decision-makers should have taken the initiative and been willing to spend our money. This was always too important to be left to “charity” (which really amounts to tax deductions and political favor for big corporations).
At an individual level, with the advent of low-cost computers like the Raspberry Pi, a computing device is within economic reach for the vast majority of US families (though fast and affordable Internet service might not be available, depending on one’s address).
The Raspberry Pi 4B with 2 gigabytes of RAM is a desktop replacement, capable of running the Chrome or Firefox Web browser, including in-browser tools like Zoom. It costs $55, plugs into any TV made in the last 15 years, and works with whatever USB keyboard and mouse people have lying around.