Much print has been devoted to the demise of education in Rural America. Sinking demographics, imploding budgets, and the continuous loss of rural appeal are enough to cause even the most optimistic among us to throw in the towel and give up on Rural America altogether.
But is all of this unsolicited pessimism justified? Can we find no redeeming factor in the educational future of Rural America? Do they have nothing to offer the rest of the country?
The Answer is a Loud and Resounding “No!”
Perhaps we have overlooked the obvious. What is the obvious you might ask? It’s nothing other than the integration of technology and education, or “Edtech” as is it is affectionately known.
The truth is that if we wish to observe the future of technology in the schools, we shouldn’t be looking at either suburban or urban districts. Instead, our focus should be on rural communities.
When reviewing statewide initiatives in Rural America, it becomes quite clear that technology seems to be gaining traction. Those new programs include distance education and innovative learning opportunities for teachers in a variety of ways. And the data seems to indicate that successes are more common in rural areas.
It is the states with larger rural populations that should be dominating the focus of innovative edtech companies, investors looking to grow their portfolios, and the media. And the reason is quite simple. Rural areas as a result of their inherent challenges implementing conventional means are in a stronger position to embrace innovation.
A Digital Solution to a Tough Educational Dilemma
The idea that the greatest need is sometimes the formula for the best solution is nothing new. What has happened in Wyoming over the past decade is a case in point. One problem in the rural districts was how to meet the diverse needs of a varied population of students without stretching the budget too far.
To address this seemingly impossible hurdle, policies in the state were dramatically altered to eliminate all barriers for students to access educational opportunities. Educators devoted significant time and effort in creating a new vision of education, essentially discarding the traditional paradigm of education in favor of something far more relevant and innovative- distance education and digital learning.
Capitalizing on cutting edge technology was at the core of this new paradigm. Online courses and interactive video were woven into the very fabric of this brave new world. And by embracing these changes to enhance education, the extension to online therapies as well including speech, occupational and mental health has been seamless.
Teachers Benefit Too!
Interestingly enough, the transition to digital learning and distance education created new challenges. Teachers now needed a whole new toolbox of skills to blend online instruction with traditional learning techniques effectively. The solution came in the form of Google Summits, Edcamp, and monthly webinars.
Again the collaborative models created in the educational realm hold exciting promise for the therapeutic world as well. The seeds for online therapists to interact, share, learn, and strengthen each other, liberated from geographical constraints, have been planted and are already beginning to blossom.
Entrepreneurial Spirit is Alive and Well in Rural America
As of late, there has been an increased emphasis on expanding funding to nurture and support entrepreneurs in Rural America who show interest and aptitude in innovating Edtech products. What’s more, mini-grants are encouraging teachers to create new products that will enhance student success through technological advances.
It may be expected that this spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation will soon spill over into the clinical world as well. The digital world and its unlimited potential for innovation have already lit a fire under the feet of educators in Rural America. And as time goes on it can be expended that this fire will continue to grow.
And why you may ask is this gaining traction so much quicker among the rural population? The answer is quite simple. What many see as Rural America’s deficit is becoming the asset that may soon exceed our imagination!