Google Fiber and the KCMO School District digital divide

Josh Lockhart told those at a meeting on Google Fiber in education about his experience as a digital have-not.

Josh Lockhart was among educators, students and concerned community members who gathered at the Google Fiberspace on Saturday to discuss the digital divide. As Google Fiber rolls out its ultra-high-speed Internet service in Kansas City, only those neighborhoods that show interest by pre-registering for the service are assured they will be hooked up. And if the neighborhoods around schools don’t qualify, the schools will not be wired either. That’s led to concern that some in Kansas City will not get the service, which many believe could offer groundbreaking educational opportunities to young people and increase the “digital divide” between students who have access to technology and those who do not.

Google Fiber and the school district invited the educational community to discuss the problem last Saturday. Along with developing ideas about how to bridge the digital divide in education, they heard from Kansas City Public School student Josh Lockhart about his experiences.

Lockhart is talented enough to be enrolled in a program that will allow him to graduate from both Southwest High School and Penn Valley Community College with an associate degree this year. Yet when he started college courses, “I didn’t have access to the Internet because my Mom couldn’t afford it,” Lockhart says. That was a problem because study guides and even tests for his college courses were available only on the Internet.

Lockhart had to stop playing football and running track. He found he didn’t have time for practice because he needed to spend his time instead using public computers where and when he could access the Internet. Eventually, he resorted to typing his college papers into a program on his Android cell phone.

“Trying to type papers and do college work on a cell phone . . . our students deserve better than this,” school board president Airick Leonard West said. West challenged those gathered for the meeting to think about what has to be done to get students the technology they need, and then “we have to knock on doors, talk at our churches and schools” he said, to encourage residents to sign up for Google Fiber so their local schools will also be wired. The deadline for neighborhoods to pre-register for Google Fiber is September 9, and Google says there is no guarantee that schools in areas that do not pre-qualify will ever be connected.

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