NGSO Satellite Opens Door to Advanced Educational Tools and Opportunities
Vickie Kelly is a Business Development Manager at SES Government Solutions that calls Anchorage, Alaska home
Since the end of COVID-19 lockdowns and school shutdowns, many papers and research reports have been released looking at the impact of school shutdowns on the health, mental health, advancement, development, and education of students. But, surprisingly, far less attention has been paid to the deeper, societal issues that the pandemic exposed regarding access to digital tools and capabilities.
As the pandemic closed school systems and locked the doors of classrooms, students across the lower 48 and parts of Alaska had the opportunity to switch to digital learning from their homes. However, in the more remote and rural areas of Alaska, this was not a possibility.
When schools in these more remote locations had to shut down, the majority of students had no home Internet. Schools found themselves assembling paper packets of assignments for kids that their parents would pick up, and that they would find ways to send home.
That seems unreal and downright archaic in this time of connectivity – especially in the lower 48 – but it’s the reality in many of these small, remote towns and villages.
The digital divide is very real
Today, in many schools and classrooms across the urban parts of America, teachers are taking Internet-enabled tools for granted.
Educational videos on YouTube. Cloud-based learning applications. Video teleconferencing for distance learning. These applications require broadband Internet to access, and low latency to use effectively, or else they’ll time out. And teachers use them freely in their classrooms and curriculums without thinking about the fiber connectivity that makes them accessible and possible in the first place.
That’s particularly problematic in remote regions because they need these capabilities – potentially even more than urban school districts and districts in the lower 48.
For example, remote schools tend to be smaller and have fewer resources. Teachers are generalists and teach multiple classes and subjects. In this environment, distance learning via video teleconferencing could be used to bring in faculty that teach more niche classes – such as foreign languages, music, or even advanced placement classes. This could enable schools and districts to deliver a more diverse, well-rounded educational experience to students.
I’ve seen this firsthand. I used to work in a school district that offered band and orchestra through distance learning via video. Students in multiple schools would learn to play their instruments and conduct rehearsals with a music teacher that was remote, before coming together at the end of the year for one big concert in-person.
That’s an incredibly valuable resource for students that can expand the scope of their education and bring them new learning opportunities, but it’s not possible without broadband connectivity.
But that’s only one example of a capability or application that these students can’t access because of their remote locations. There are many more, and the number is only increasing as technology advances and becomes a more fundamental part of education and curriculum.
For example, gaming is widely becoming a recognized part of school athletics, with many schools and school districts launching competitive eSports teams. That’s not possible for many of these remote school districts without fiber connectivity. It may not even be possible with traditional satellite solutions.
Luckily, new advancements in satellite technology could be primed to kick the door open to enabling high throughput, low latency connectivity to the institutions and individual citizens that call even the most remote regions of Alaska home.
NGSO spells relief for connectivity concerns
We’re at a very exciting time in satellite and broadband connectivity. The emergence of next-generation non-geostationary (NGSO) satellite solutions at Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) and Lower Earth Orbit (LEO) promises to offer extremely low latency, extremely high throughput satellite solutions that could provide fiber-like connectivity to practically anywhere on the globe.
The satellites that comprise MEO and LEO constellations orbit the Earth at a much closer distance than traditional satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO). This closer orbit reduces the distance that satellite signals need to travel, decreasing the latency and making the connectivity that they offer much more like the high throughput fiber networks that schools, teachers, and students in the lower 48 and America’s more rural regions take for granted every day.
With the incredible bandwidth and decreased latency that these solutions enable, practically any educational tool or solution can be leveraged practically anywhere on Earth.
Competitive eSports can be played against schools on the other side of the world with no lag giving opponents an unfair competitive advantage. The most sophisticated educational software solutions and applications can be leveraged effectively, even if they’re hosted in the cloud. And virtual field trips, distance learning, and resource sharing between schools and districts can become possible.
Many involved in education in the state of Alaska may not know that these solutions are coming online and will be available soon, let alone how they can leverage them. Worse, they may find themselves unprepared to make connectivity purchasing decisions for their districts and schools as this next-generation technology becomes available and adds additional complexity and confusion to the purchasing and decision-making process.
With so much change on the horizon, any long-term decision that schools and districts make today that marries them to older connectivity technologies and solutions could impact their ability to leverage these solutions immediately upon their launch. So, they need to make connectivity decisions today with an eye to the future. And one of the ways they can meet their needs today without sacrificing their ability to utilize future technologies is to partner with providers that recognize how the industry and technology are evolving and are investing in the future of these technologies.
The game is about to change and exciting new satellite solutions that can destroy the digital divide in Alaska are about to launch. Alaska’s schools, teachers, and students can benefit immensely from these new technologies as soon as they come online, but only if they’ve partnered with providers that have the resources, knowledge, and capabilities to bring these new technologies to bear to help meet their requirements.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association of Alaska School Boards. AASB welcomes diverse perspectives and civil discourse. To submit a Guest Column for consideration, see our Guest Column Guidelines and email your 400-1000 word submission HERE.