Education has long served as the key to unlocking economic progress and social mobility. However, unequal access to digital tools has created a large\u00a0gap between children who have access to fast, reliable internet connectivity in school and at home and those who don\u2019t.\n\nThe internet has become an important channel for delivering learning, with many teachers incorporating online applications into classroom instruction. Some teachers use software to monitor student work, allowing them to spot problems sooner and provide extra help to those who need it. At home, students need the internet to complete assignments and work on collaborative projects.\u00a0\n\n\u201cWe know that access to the internet is essential for learning. No matter where students live, it is critical for conducting research, doing homework, and, when school buildings are closed, attending class,\u201d National Education Association President Becky Pringle has said. \n\nNearly 17 million children-many of whom are underprivileged or live in rural areas \u2013 lack adequate internet access at home. And\u00a0nearly half\u00a0attend schools that do not meet the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) connectivity benchmark of 1 Mbps per student.\u00a0\n\nThe digital divide will only grow worse as AI and immersive technologies take on a greater role in education. Interactive lessons and videos reinforce lessons by engaging children through their senses.\u00a0\u00a0AI algorithms help personalize learning, suggesting settings and resources that suit the individual needs as students work. In addition, students need to become adept at using AI and other internet tools to thrive in higher education and in the workplace.\n\nClosing the digital divide may require resources and expertise beyond the means of many school systems. Engaging in public-private partnerships can make a big difference, as the\u00a0Rock Island Milan School District\u00a0in Illinois learned during the pandemic.\n\nWhen schools shut down, nearly 80% of the Rock Island district's students had no access to home internet. Working with Source, Inc., Cradlepoint, and Verizon, the district obtained devices and WiFi routers, quickly deploying them in school buildings and homes throughout the district. The entire project took just three weeks to complete.\n\nTo continue their schoolwork, students simply plugged in their devices and connected to the district\u2019s network. Their preconfigured routers contain a built-in path to 5G connectivity, preparing them for future AI and immersive learning applications.\n\nAs 5G networks evolve, they are expected to handle 10 to 100 times more capacity than 4G systems. That could someday make augmented and virtual reality applications a regular part of the curriculum. Schools can attain the speed, low latency, and reliability they need to offer these capabilities to all students \u2013 even those in rural areas \u2013 with\u00a05G\u00a0fixed wireless business internet\u00a0service.\n\nBecause it doesn\u2019t require cables or fiber\u00a0to be installed in every home, 5G wireless broadband\u00a0internet is available at a reasonable cost virtually anywhere. Schools that wish to avoid connection to the public internet may want to consider a private 5G network, which enables the use of advanced access and security controls.\n\nBy providing fast, reliable, secure, and cost-effective 5G connectivity for all, schools can close the digital divide and help prepare students for a technologically advanced future. Districts may apply for federal funding for modernizing their technology through the\u00a0Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act\u00a0(IIJA).