The Impact of E-Rate on Digital Classrooms

Sep 10, 2018, 12:45 PM by Ali Bagasrawala
Digital learning is the future, which is why school districts are investing in it.

The days of teachers standing in front of a room and lecturing to rows of students sitting at their desks have given way to more interactive learning models. Today’s students gather around monitors or use their laptops and tablets to access apps, games, videos, eBooks and virtual reality tools that complement or outright replace traditional textbooks.

Digital learning is the future, which is why school districts are investing in it. In less than 10 years, digital learning will completely replace printed textbooks, according to 75 percent of teachers participating in a recent survey. Almost half of classrooms use a digital device daily, according Deloitte’s first Digital Education Survey, and 42 percent of teachers say at least one device is used everyday, with laptops, desktops and tablets being the most commonly used.

Some of the ways digital learning works include the following:

  • Cloud-based platforms that allow teachers to test students on the spot through quizzes delivered to their laptops or tablets
  • Applications that combine music, photos, graphics and animation to teach students software programming
  • Tools to create compelling, graphic-rich presentations that students can use in lieu of, or to augment, written reports

The modern classroom is fast evolving into a digitized space with high-tech learning aides that pre-millennial generations could only have dreamed of. In an increasing number of classrooms, textbooks and chalkboards are being replaced by electronic boards, mobile devices and a plethora of online study aids and tools. A well-equipped classroom in the Digital Age looks more and more like something out of a game control center.

A recent survey by the Center for Digital Education revealed 87 percent of school districts are upgrading their networks for increased instructional demands such as enriched digital content, multi-media-rich video and cloud-based applications. Forty-six percent of respondents say their digital infrastructure is either inefficient or they do not know if it is sufficient to support the needs of students and classrooms.

Technology doesn’t just replace traditional teaching tools, it also delivers new ways of engaging students to help them learn. With digital teaching aids, educators can personalize curricula so students who absorb information at different speeds or in different ways can all be accommodated.

Digital learning also allows students to continue their studies after school lets out at 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. Students can stay connected to cloud-based educational platforms to study and complete coursework. But of course if districts cannot afford to provide the tools and connectivity, their students are at a disadvantage in comparison to those in higher-income districts.

The challenge is that digital classrooms can be expensive, which explains why despite recent gains, 6.5 million students remain unconnected. That number is down from 40 million in 2013, and the goal is to connect all students by 2020, according to the non-profit EducationSuperhighway.

They require hardware, cloud-based solutions, internet access and infrastructure. Many K-12 school districts, already struggling with providing the basics – classroom space, pencils and notebooks – have a hard time coming up with the cash to pay for digital classrooms. Thankfully, help is available through the E-Rate federal program. E-rate is the commonly used name for the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund, a program managed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that helps schools and libraries pay for connectivity services.

In 20 years of operation, the federal E-Rate program has become a critical tool to help districts meet these challenges going forward. Thanks in part to E-Rate, bandwidths have increased nationwide for tens of millions of students. According to the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, the connectivity gap has narrowed by 84 percent, but 6.5 million students nationwide still lack the minimum connectivity goal of 100 Kbps for digital learning in their classrooms, according to the nonprofit’s 2017 State of the States report.

Reliable Connectivity

What’s needed to support new digital classrooms is modern network infrastructure, including reliable WiFi and high-capacity broadband, to help make learning smarter. Without these modern connections, teachers can be constrained in terms of the innovative technology tools they use to spark student’s imagination and thirst for education.

While digital tools are more accessible in affluent areas that have school districts with heftier budgets, it can be a real struggle in rural and urban environments where funding is more scarce. E-Rate aims to equalize the quality of education between affluent and low-income school districts by making funds available where most needed.

Depending on income levels, school districts can qualify for funds ranging from 20 percent to 90 percent of their connectivity costs. E-Rate covers telecommunications services, internet access, connections within the internal network, and basic maintenance of the related internal infrastructure.

School districts still have to provide the necessary equipment, such as computers and servers, as well as software and access to cloud-based services. From a survey conducted by Center for Digital Education in January 2018, 50 percent of respondents still need in-classroom computing devices. However, the potentially substantial discounts they get on connectivity enables them to allocate more of their budgets to the actual digital learning tools. 

Succeeding in the Modern World

Schools that need it, therefore, should take advantage of the E-Rate program to give their students access to the learning tools required to succeed in today’s educational environment. As districts work toward their digital learning goals, good relationships with vendors, sufficient funding, and careful planning will be key. Learn how Comcast Business can help set up your classroom with E-Rate, visit




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