Hu Meena guest columnist 8/12/2014

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 13, 2014

High-speed Internet  in classrooms can help move schools to fast lane

Technology is rapidly changing how we educate our children.  From iPads and tablets to laptop computers, today’s classrooms look nothing like those from even a few years ago.  To power this quantum change, teachers need access to the latest digital learning platforms and schools need high-speed Internet connections for all students.

Recent media reports have shed new light on the scope of this challenge and the need for immediate action.  Currently the state trails the rest of the country in education technology use, which negatively influences high school graduation rates and student employment opportunities. 

Too few schools have access to high-speed broadband and Internet-capable devices and many areas struggle to effectively use technology even when it is available in the classroom, according to a recent study by Digital Learning Now, a group that advocates for more online learning. The technology gap is looming large as we transition to online assessments that will be used to make student promotion and graduation decisions, evaluate teachers and rate schools.

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Today, most schools in Mississippi lack robust Wi-Fi connections for students.  But, it doesn’t have to stay this way. Simply put, Mississippi needs an education revolution to move us into the technology fast lane.   To get to the front of the digital learning curve, we need visionary education leaders, commitment from elected officials, support of parents and private sector participation.

The good news is that C Spire is already doing its part to help change the narrative and position our schools for success.  As a Mississippi-based telecommunications and technology services provider, we have been a leader in deploying fiber optic infrastructure to power high-speed Internet connections.

C Spire has developed a cost-effective solution to expand Wi-Fi networks in schools to support digital learning, expand computer use and boost slow Internet speeds.  Our hosted Wi-Fi solution has been successfully piloted in two districts with state funding and deployed in three additional public school districts and two independent schools.

Our solution got a big boost a few weeks ago when the Federal Communications Commission voted to reform the nation’s E-rate program, which provides funding for discounted telecommunications services, Internet access and equipment to eligible schools and libraries.  

Under the new federal rules designed to expand Wi-Fi networks, additional schools in Mississippi have an opportunity to benefit from the $2 billion nationwide funding increase for Wi-Fi education networks over the next two years.  Of course, increased state funding would further accelerate these Wi-Fi deployments in schools to provide students and teachers with the connectivity they urgently need.

The time to act is now.  We owe it to today’s students and future generations in Mississippi to equip them with the digital literacy skills they need to effectively compete in the 21st century global information economy.

That can only happen if we work together to revolutionize classroom instruction in the same way we ensure that high speed Internet access continues to transform virtually every part of our economy and our society.  

While the challenges are significant, the benefits from technology-driven improvements in our state’s schools are greater.  For once, Mississippi can be a leader in education.  Let’s show the world that our state means business about transforming education and brightening our children’s future.

Hu Meena is president and CEO of C Spire, a privately owned and operated diversified telecommunications and technology services company based in Ridgeland, Mississippi.