SC governor, education leaders announce ‘intermediate solution’ for virtual learning in rural areas

SC governor, education leaders announce ‘intermediate solution’ for virtual learning in rural areas

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On Wednesday, state leaders unveiled a new education initiative called datacasting that will bring instructional content to students living in areas with limited or no broadband internet access.

Datacasting technology supports the delivery of instructional content to students living in areas with limited or no broadband access. SCETV said they plan to serve approximately 5,000 students across 34 school districts in the state.

Education announcement

Gov. Henry McMaster is announcing a new way for students in rural areas of the state to learn from home >> Get the earliest breaking news alerts on your phone with the WIS 10 News app >>

Posted by WIS TV on Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Governor Henry McMaster and State Superintendent Molly Spearman were joined by other state leaders to announce the initiative. There, McMaster quoted James Byrnes, a former governor of South Carolina, on why he believes education is important, saying, “Our economic prosperity is directly based on educational strength. So, if we’re going to be prosperous, healthy, and happy, that means we must educate these children.”

Here’s how datacasting works. Teachers and staff work together to put the education material in a format that can be sent out. The data is sent over the SCETV broadcast signal, and the signal is sent directly to a student’s device and they can access the material. All students need is a computer or tablet, an antenna, and a receiver, and teachers will be able to send educational materials over a broadcast signal. It’s a solution that thousands of families without broadband internet access need.

“Our signal strength is not great out here. It varies from day to day. We don’t know what we are going to have from day to day,” Stephanie Singleton, a Lexington School District Four parent, said.

Singleton said children are using a hotspot because they don’t have access to broadband internet.

“It’s been hard to try to figure things out without it. So, I’m hoping we can get some sort of resolve to it,” Singleton said.

McMaster said one temporary solution is datacasting.

“It’s not a replacement for broadband. Instead, it’s an intermediate solution until broadband can be expanded,” McMaster said.

The partnership is between SCETV, which reaches 98% of households across the state, and the Department of Education.

“Through this grant, we will be providing the student portion of the equipment they need in their homes,” Spearman said.

SCETV officials said teachers will be able to transmit students their virtual assignments using the technology, and those assignments will look the same as if they were using the internet to download the files.

“We are taking the schoolhouse to the child,” McMaster said.

Fairfield, Jasper, and York school districts are part of the pilot program for this.

“I think parents will be excited, particularly for some of the parents who didn’t have internet access at home but were reluctant to report for in-person instruction,” Fairfield County Superintendent J.R. Green said.

However, Green said it does have some drawbacks.

“This is a nice stop-gap measure, but because its only one-way communication, it’s not ideal. Learning is an interactive process, which means teacher-student, teacher-student,” Green said.

Officials said they hope to get this rolled out in the pilot counties next month and in other districts across the state later this year.

McMaster pledged $1.3 million of CARES Act funding to SCETV to expand datacasting and the Department of Education will be spending $2.4 million in grant funds to supply all the equipment.

McMaster said about 20% of households across the state don’t have broadband internet access.

He said the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff has purchased over 100,000 mobile hotspots for students across the state.

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