Wireless classrooms

Our view: Other systems should follow Baltimore County's example

July 29, 2008

For today's students, computer literacy is as fundamental as reading, writing and arithmetic. From elementary school through college and beyond, computers and the ocean of online information they make available are as essential to the learning process as pens, pencils and paper once were.

So students in Baltimore County will have a big leg up when classes start in August with wireless high-speed Internet access installed in every one of its 171 public schools. It will be the region's only system with wireless connections in every classroom that let students download instructional materials from the Web with the click of a mouse.

County officials say wireless access gives educators more flexibility than systems based on hard-wired cable connections because students can use laptops provided by the school to work on assignments anywhere in the building rather than only in a single dedicated computer lab. They won't waste time jogging from place to place just to get online, and more than one classroom can access the Internet simultaneously.

Wireless access is a familiar feature in many homes and businesses, from airlines and hotels to trendy Internet cafes and coffee shops. Over the long term, it can be cheaper to install in a typical school than high-speed cable systems, and it frees up classroom space that otherwise would have to be devoted to permanent computer labs.

Carroll and Howard counties and Baltimore city are exploring going wireless. Nationally, nearly half of all public schools with Internet access were using wireless connections in 2005, up from a third just two years earlier. Clearly this is the wave of the future, and Baltimore County is helping lead the way.

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