Nihal ElRayess is senior managing director of student achievement and program on Teach For America’s Technology Solutions team.
A former educator friend of mine once brought down his school district’s entire network—more than once—during a three-week project when he hooked his 30 students up to a set of MacBooks. You usually hear horror stories like this when a small company hosts an event with far more guests than their network was ever intended to support. While the guests at that company event where the network failed might walk away miffed, our students stand to lose a lot more.
According to EducationSuperHighway (ESH), a nonprofit organization whose cause is to “transform education by closing the digital divide in schools,” 80% of the United States’ 100,000 schools (40 million students) do not have the broadband infrastructure required to take advantage of the promise of education technology.
The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) recommends that schools have a minimum 100 Mbps+ broadband infrastructure by 2015.
Getting there is not a funding or technology problem. The Federal Communication Commission's E-Rate program provides $2-to-$3 billion per year to help schools upgrade their broadband infrastructure. If the impact of this funding were maximized through collective purchasing, every school in America could deploy 100 Mbps+ broadband infrastructure using off-the-shelf technology.
Instead, we have a digital divide in our schools due to a lack of information about where to direct E-Rate funding, fragmented purchasing by 14,000 school districts, a lack of expertise in our schools about how to deploy and manage 100Mbps+ infrastructure, and a paucity of high-speed broadband in school neighborhoods.
Moreover, the lack of information as to what broadband infrastructure is currently deployed at each school limits the ability of policymakers to effectively deploy the funds.
Enter Tony Swei, chief operating officer and cofounder of EducationSuperHighway. I met Tony at a White House Datapalooza event in October. He was discussing the recent launch of ESH’s new School Speed Test—a tool that crowd-sources data by allowing anyone from the school community to assess whether the school’s network is fast enough for digital learning. I’d never heard of the organization before, but I immediately recognized the potential impact that exposure to ESH’s 1-minute test and other programs could have on schools.
ESH’s School Speed Test makes it easy for teachers to get information on their school network’s speed and the digital learning it can support by simply entering their school’s ZIP code, city, state, school name, and their role from a computer logged into the school’s network.
EducationSuperHighway uses the data to help identify schools that need to be upgraded to a 100Mbps+ broadband infrastructure and provides a number of services to help schools get the funding to do so, including a Geek Squad to deploy on the ground.
Organizations such as EducationSuperHighway prove that the digital divide is a solvable problem. All it takes is 1-minute of us acting individually to contribute data to a collective whole.
So if you’re looking for a gift for your community or school this holiday season, how about the gift of broadband? Take the School Speed Test and pssst... pass it on.
Born in Florence, Italy, Nihal ElRayess grew up in Aleppo, Syria, until the age of 9, followed by upstate New York through college, joining the corps in 1993. Her career has ranged from teaching first grade, medical illustration, web design, and brand strategy to product management. Nihal resides in the Bay Area with her aviation-obsessed 2-year-old daughter, Leila, and husband, Brian.