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Arkansas Connects High-Speed Internet in All Public Schools

Arkansas schools in all 293 districts now have broadband Internet connections, but many still lack the computer hardware to benefit from them. (Pixabay)
Arkansas schools in all 293 districts now have broadband Internet connections, but many still lack the computer hardware to benefit from them. (Pixabay)
August 16, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - As Arkansas students and teachers return to the classroom this fall, they'll find a broadband Internet connection in every public school in the state.

In the past two years, the Arkansas Departments of Education and Information Systems worked together to install 200-kilobit-per-second connections in every school district. Arkansas now is one of only six states in the country with all schools connected at or above the federal target speed of 100 kbps.

Cathy Koehler, president of the Arkansas Education Association, said the high-speed networks will better prepare students for the modern world.

"This is an exciting step toward ensuring that students in Arkansas are prepared to enter the workforce," she said, "especially considering the former lack of broadband in schools in many parts of our state."

When state officials began the upgrade in 2015, only 58 percent of schools had true broadband connections. Koehler said the new networks provide enough bandwidth to allow students to take online courses, do research and participate in Internet-based class projects, such as coding and virtual field trips.

Koehler said, however, that many of the newly wired schools still lack the hardware - computers, monitors, printers and so on - to properly take advantage of the high-speed connections.

"Having access is great," she said, "but if you don't have tablets or you don't have standalone computers, the students still are not getting the true benefit of this step that our state has taken."

Koehler said many students, mostly in impoverished rural areas, still are at a digital disadvantage. She said state officials should be working to close that gap as well.

"While students may now have access at school, which is fantastic, they go home to communities that still don't have access and families that cannot afford access," she said. "Let's hope that we can move beyond that."

Koehler said Arkansas, which is ranked 39th in education among the states by U.S. News and World Report, is moving in the right direction, but added that she thinks lawmakers need to boost education standards and funding to make more headway.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR