I cannot get this statistic from Superintendent Hofmeister out of my mind: At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, about one in four Oklahoma students did not have internet access at home.
Statewide efforts championed by Superintendent Hofmeister and the Oklahoma State Department of Education have achieved online access for about 50,000 of 175,000 students who lacked access at the start of the pandemic. It took hot spots on cell towers, federal and state relief dollars, negotiated rates from carriers, and more to buy devices, expand internet coverage, and establish the process and training to roll out this out.
Despite these heroic efforts and progress since, we must do whatever it takes to deliver internet to the more than 100,000 Oklahoma students who still lack access.
Beyond fighting for online access for our students, it also took leadership that recognized a transformative opportunity from this pandemic to engage communities, families and students in a different way. As Superintendent Hofmeister said, “We have all stepped up our level of engagement at the same time around the same thing. COVID is highlighting the way that school addresses the needs of the whole child.”
There has been a shift in our conversations in education. As a state, we can seize the moment and transform education based on customized and personalized learning for Oklahoma’s new generations of digital natives. We can create an Oklahoma specific model of learning that happens in classrooms and in living rooms. We can use technology and the idea of a virtual academy of learning to expand access to all kinds of education — from construction to computers — that COVID started out of necessity.
That matters because our children are the talent of the future — talent that will drive our state’s innovation — as inventors, entrepreneurs, and customers. As farmers, teachers, and mechanics — as parents and physicians. The list goes on and on.
A few weeks ago, I quoted Ecclesiastes, and I do so again. “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.”
When it comes to Oklahoma’s most important long-term asset, our children — that time is now.