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The COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear that entry to the web is an absolute necessity for Maine’s college students. With a purpose to restrict the unfold of the virus, Gov.Janet Mills and the Maine Division of Training announced earlier this month that colleges ought to plan to proceed distance studying for the rest of the 2019-20 faculty 12 months. Whereas this was an essential step for public well being, it places college students with out web entry susceptible to falling severely behind on their training.
Indisputably, academics in Maine have made each effort to transition to distant studying and to offer our college students the identical classes they might obtain within the classroom. However in some locations and for some households, this has been a very difficult adjustment.
Hundreds of scholars in Maine are presently unable to attend their on-line lessons, unable to finish their assignments and unable to interact in group-learning actions. In our state’s transition to distance studying, many college students with out web entry are being left behind.
In Lincoln County, RSU 12 carried out a survey asking college students’ mother and father for his or her suggestions on the effectiveness of distance studying. Of the 425 mother and father who responded, about 12% reported having insufficient entry to the web or no entry to the web at residence. Whereas transitioning to distance studying, RSU 73, which serves the communities of Jay, Livermore and Livermore Falls, made an announcement on the distribution of studying supplies, stating that college students with out web entry would obtain paper packets. General, the Maine Division of Training estimates that 20% of Maine families wouldn’t have a broadband web connection.
In response to high school closures as a result of COVID-19, Maine’s academics and faculty directors have been working onerous to offer college students with web entry and laptops or tablets if wanted. NetworkMaine, a unit of the College of Maine System, created the Study-from-Car Initiative and has provided help to over 100 colleges in Maine to have their WiFi networks prolonged so that oldsters and college students can entry the web from faculty parking heaps.
The Examine-from-Automotive Initiative is an instance of the inventive methods Mainers are serving to one another by these unprecedented instances. Sadly, taking youngsters to the varsity parking zone for hours every day just isn’t possible for a lot of mother and father, and it’s removed from a perfect studying setting. That is particularly tough for these working important service jobs or for individuals who don’t personal a automotive.
Another strategy, which some faculty districts have been capable of do, is to distribute WiFi hotspots to college students with out web entry. On the federal degree, Sen. Angus King, co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, has been advocating for funding that can present faculty districts with the power to distribute WiFi hotspots to college students who want them. On each the federal and state degree, satisfactory funding for WiFi hotspots must be a spotlight of our COVID-19 response.
Maine’s lawmakers, enterprise house owners, connectivity advocates and educators have lengthy been sounding the alarm concerning the financial and academic influence of insufficient broadband protection. Since many components of Maine are sparsely populated, it hasn’t all the time been worthwhile
for web service suppliers to broaden entry to sure rural areas. Whereas WiFi hotspots can function a brief resolution for our college students throughout this disaster, our federal, state and native governments must make deeper, long-term investments in broadband enlargement.
Previously 12 months, essential steps have been taken to enhance connectivity in Maine. In January, the USDA announced with Gov. Mills that the federal authorities shall be investing $10 million in broadband funding in sure communities in Maine. This 12 months, we had been proud to vote for a bill, sponsored by Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, to cut back the regulatory burden positioned on neighborhood teams searching for broadband planning grants. Moreover, on July 14, Maine individuals will get the chance to vote on a bond that can present $15 million in broadband enlargement funding.
Within the meantime, Maine’s college students want us to behave quick to offer them with the connectivity they require. The ramifications of scholars with out web shedding their entry to training are critical, and we can not permit our rural college students and college students from low-income households to fall behind.
Rep. Tina Riley, D-Jay, is a member of the Legislature’s Vitality, Utilities and Expertise Committee. Rep. Holly Stover, D-Boothbay, is a member of the Legislature’s Well being and Human Providers Committee.
Watch: What does returning to regular seem like?