Schools: Your Friendly Neighborhood ISP?

In response to my post Promoting Twitteracy in the Classroom, Paul Harrington dropped by to make a salient point that we as teachers/technology enthusiasts must never forget:

…we have to be cautious though with the digital divide that we don’t further disadvantage those without access to the technology outside school – a difficult nut to crack….

This brief comment got me thinking about my own experiences with students and their ability to access the Internet. In responding to Paul in the comments, I got off on a bit of a tangent:

… if lack of access in the community is a widespread enough problem, I wonder what role the school could play in providing that access on an evening/weekend basis? And perhaps not only access, but instruction as well, perhaps in an adult-learning model?

If we are going to commit to instructing not only students, but administrators and parents, too (as folks have suggested elsewhere in the edublogosphere recently), should schools commit to providing community Internet access and education, especially in communities where folks may not even own computers?

I’m not talking about an ISP in the sense of Verizon or Comcast; I mean a full-on commitment to keeping a free or minimal charge drop-in computer lab open with a small staff to assist people as needed, and maybe run adult-ed-style classes on navigation, search skills, online banking, online safety/security (e.g. avoiding phishing/email scams), etc.

So many questions come to mind as I think this through: would the existence of such a service go over well in your community? Would taxpayers find this an acceptable use of school funds? Even if schools don’t have an obligation to do so, should they step up in the name of social action and provide this service to the communities that need it most? Furthermore, could it help to combat this seemingly pervasive attitude of alarmism (and, dare I say, ignorance?) such as appears in this month’s Scholastic Administrator (please also read John Pederson’s response) [both via Christian @ think:lab]?

Do any of you have any experience with such a plan in your district/state/province/country? How successful (or unsuccessful) has it been? Could it work?


  • Damian,
    This is a good time to have this debate I think, as we are all (bloggers etc) so keen to push the boundaries/walls of schools down, and we do all need to bear this dilemma in mind. I know that opening up schools/community centres to those who do not have access to technology at home is going on in several countries.
    In my own case it would take a bit of organising and someones time(?), but I believe it is something which needs to be tackled in order to embed new technologies into the education/learning environment.
    Thanks again for taking up the baton on this one 🙂

  • talk on technology in schools is a sure-fire way to catch my interest, damian.

    will schools become community hubs for internet resources & education?

    isn’t it sort of a catch-22? the schools that have the resources to do this are likely ones that have a higher percentage of homes with access to the web, while those with fewer resources are also likely to be the districts that would most benefit from this kind of scheme.

    but are communities going to inevitably become more connected to the www? yes.

    in some countries, like indonesia for example, more people access the internet through their mobile device than on a computer. follow the 1LPC project, it seems like we won’t be too far away from seeing a world that is truly connected, in a widespread and powerful way.

    bridging the technology divide…hmmm…as the web gets cheaper and cheaper, will there come a point when there is not such a huge difference (regarding technology access) between the haves and the have-nots?

    or is this my conservative bent coming through and wanting to ignore yet another tangled-up knot of a problem?

  • I have mixed feelings about this. If you talking about schools being the location of these “adult-ed-style classes” I have no problem with it.

    However, if you’re talking about school staff and administration planning and running these programs, I just think we start getting into an area that schools don’t need to be in. Schools are asked to intervene and help for so many societal problems outside of education. Do we really need to give schools more responsibilities?

  • Good points, everybody – I’ll try to speak to what I can.

    @Jeffrey: I would hope to avoid the Matthew Effect you describe by making available federal grants to get programs up and running. That may seem like a US-centric POV, but I plead ignorance as to the workings of other countries’ educational systems (that’s why I’m glad you and Paul stopped by – can you give some perspective?). Also, the access is only half of it – I also think that awareness and literacy is the other vital component.

    Also, I agree that Net connectivity is getting cheaper and easier to come by, which is why I think schools could accelerate the process with minimal cost, esp. if the aforementioned grant monies come into play.

    @David: I’m usually in agreement re: “not our responsibility”, but I wonder how we can expect our community members to support technological initiatives if they don’t know anything about them. To me, I see this as a short-term investment that will yield long-term results in terms of community support.

    @Paul: Thanks for inspiring me to think this out – is something that’s happening in the UK on a widespread basis?

    Looking forward to continuing this conversation!

  • […] Schools: Your Friendly Neighborhood ISP? (Aug 2007) If we are going to commit to instructing not only students, but administrators and parents, too (as folks have suggested elsewhere in the edublogosphere recently), should schools commit to providing community Internet access and education, especially in communities where folks may not even own computers? […]

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