This is a great idea:
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will award $900,000 to public library systems in New York City and Chicago, part of a larger pool of innovation grants worth nearly $3.5 million, to allow disadvantaged families and individuals to borrow portable Wi-Fi hotspots and take them home. (my emphasis)
The New York City Public Library’s pilot project will allow families to borrow mobile Wi-Fi hotspot devices for up to a year, with the goal of reaching 10,000 households. The program, which will receive $500,000 and will be run in the library’s 92 branches, is targeting users whose current access to the Internet is limited to 40 minutes a day.
The Chicago program, which will receive $400,000, has a much smaller window for borrowing—devices will be available for three-week loans, though the goal is to hone the loaning model and expand it over time. The Chicago program will also make laptops and tablets available, the Knight foundation said.
In both cases, the loaning of equipment will be coupled with training meant to increase borrowers’ overall digital literacy and Internet skill.
While the impetus for this initiative was to support families of K-12 students, note that borrowers may also be individuals. Thus adult learners who lack access to the Internet at home could benefit from this program as well — and it would be relatively easy in both cities to partner up with the adult education community to ensure that the digital literacy training offered is accessible to adults with low literacy.
Public libraries, by design, they are there to support learning and access to information for everyone in the communities they serve. Initiatives that look to public libraries as the focal point for community internet access is a good trend for adult education.
UPDATE 6/30/14: Another story about this initiative here.
AP reporter Julie Watson reports that the Los Angeles Public Library will be partnering with educational publisher Cengage Learning to offer a high school diploma program for adults and out-of-school youth—reportedly the first time a public library system has offered such a program. The library hopes to grant high school diplomas to 150 adults in the first year.
According to Watson, the library’s director, John Szabo, has already introduced 850 online courses for continuing education and a program that helps immigrants complete the requirements for U.S. citizenship.
It ail be interesting to see how this all plays out. It’s clear from Cengage’s press release that they expect to bring the program to other public libraries across the country.
It also marks the entry of Cengage Learning into the high school equivalency credential market.
An E-Rate increase has gathered some momentum over the last several months. The White House recently joined the effort by issuing a proposal (“ConnectED”) that basically outlines a vision for expanded connectivity powered by new E-Rate funds (in a nutshell: “to have 99% of American students connected to broadband Internet within five years”). More information here.
E-Rate is an interesting issue from a government education spending point of view because it’s not a legislative matter (that is, it doesn’t require Congress to act)—it only requires FCC approval.
Most of the attention on E-Rate is focused on K-12 schools, but it’s worth keeping an eye on from an adult education policy perspective as well, because public libraries are covered by the program. Faster/better connectivity at public libraries provides a benefit to adult leaners—particularly those enrolled in library-based adult education programs, of course, but also self-studiers (a population that adult education policy folks often forget about—a story for another day), or any learner enrolled in a program anywhere who uses their local public library for supplementary study outside of class. Back in June, ALA issued statement in support of the administration’s ConnectEd proposal that noted the role that library broadband connectivity plays in adult education:
“At any given point in the day a library can enable: a student live-chatting with an online tutor for homework help, a parent communicating with his child’s teacher via the online course management system, a high school student taking an Advanced Placement course online, a small class taking an online GED training course, students of all ages participating in real-time distance learning and a professional completing a recertification course. These are just a few of the Internet-based services the E-rate program helps support in America’s libraries. Virtually all public libraries provide no-fee access to computers and the Internet, including WiFi.” (my emphasis)
What would be even better, of course, would be an E-Rate program that allowed community-based adult education programs to apply for the discount as well as schools and libraries.