HomeCoronavirus pushed learning online, but half of US lacks accessTechCoronavirus pushed learning online, but half of US lacks access

Coronavirus pushed learning online, but half of US lacks access

Corey Shepherd teaches fifth-graders in rural Alaska in a school district the size of Indiana. The terrain there is so rural that only airplanes and snowmobiles connect the district’s 11 tiny villages.

Shepherd is one of more than 7,000 teachers in her state trying to make the most of teaching her students since the governor closed schools to in-person learning to stop the spread of the coronavirus. One method she isn’t relying on: online learning.

“Around half of my students have access to the internet on some device at home,” Shepherd said. “Internet service is very expensive in rural Alaska and comes with data caps. Internet service is also prone to interruptions due to weather.” 

For those who already have service, there’s help: Across the nation, many internet providers have agreed to waive late fees and end disconnects for families in financial hardship. But millions without high-speed internet at home have been left to fend for themselves as governments shut down their school buildings and mandate distance learning.

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A study by Microsoft in 2018 estimated that about half of Americans – 163 million people – do not have high-speed internet at home.

Students in rural areas often find it impossible to connect to internet service at speeds that would allow conferencing or video streaming because internet providers haven’t extended the lines. Elsewhere, especially in urban districts with high concentrations of poor students, subscribing is too expensive. 

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