According to BESA research, only 44 per cent of primary schools say they are well-resourced when it comes to broadband. So does the government’s recent digital strategy include schools in its broadband plans? Education Business investigates
In January this year, it was reported that poor broadband puts children’s education at risk in rural areas.
The report by Rural England said that pupils who grow up in rural communities are at a disadvantage compared to pupils in urban areas, as they are less able to access online learning resources and carry out research.
Brian Wilson, director at Rural England, who wrote the report, said: “A lack of a fast broadband connection is an issue in a lot of rural places.
“Schools are increasingly using online learning materials, children are expected to do a lot of homework online. A slow connection at home makes it harder to do homework, particularly research based tasks, projects which involve trying to download attachments or large document.”
THE DIGITAL STRATEGY
The UK’s Digital Strategy, which was released by the government in March, states that it will include the whole of the UK in its “digital revolution.” It says the strategy “is not limited to one place or idea – it is penetrating the length and breadth of the UK, from Cornwall to the Highlands, from Wales to Northern Ireland, and we are determined to ensure that nowhere is left behind.”
That strategy acknowledges the vital role connectivity plays in the success of the UK. It says: “Digital connectivity is now a utility, and modern life is increasingly impossible without it. Connectivity drives productivity and innovation, and is the physical underpinning of a digital nation.”
The strategy goes on to say the government will invest over £1 billion to accelerate the development and uptake of next generation digital infrastructure – including full fibre and 5G.
Caroline Wright, director general of BESA, commented: “It is encouraging to see the government reiterate its plans to ensure that no-one is left behind when it comes to broadband access and that every home and business can have access to fast broadband by 2020.
“It is vital that this also includes schools, as our latest research shows that currently only 44 percent of primary schools say they are well-resourced when it comes to broadband.”
“In order to ensure that we remain world‑leading in developing a workforce for the future – increasingly digital – economy, it is vital that teachers are adequately equipped with both the necessary infrastructure and resources.”
The strategy says that local communities are best placed to identify the connectivity needs of their local area and that they should work with communications providers to shape the roll-out of digital infrastructure.
The report says that “a locally-led approach by supporting partnerships between residents and local community bodies, including schools and public libraries,” will be encouraged.
The government has made a range of tools and advice available to make it easier for communities to identify their connectivity challenges and to establish community broadband solutions. This support includes the government’s Go Superfast Checker website, examples of delivery models, technologies, financing options and case studies from similar communities in the UK.
Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) also supports local authorities who want to jointly fund investment with communities to enable new infrastructure projects to go ahead. This is done in a number of different ways, for example by extending the scope of existing contracted plans by sharing the full cost of going further into high-cost areas.
Whilst schools get a mention here, they are not overtly referred to in the government’s broadband plans overall, with the focus being on households and businesses.
In order to adequately teach the computing curriculum, schools must have a robust IT infrastructure supporting them.
Different schools will have different requirements from their broadband connection. Each school’s requirements will vary greatly due to a number of reasons, such as the size of the school, the number of staff, the number of connected devices, the type of applications being used and different teaching methods. Before considering different broadband and network options, a school should ensure it fully understands its needs, including the ICT based applications used for teaching, learning and administrative roles.
Factors to consider include: School office functions; video conferencing; staff email; pupil email, staff internet usage while teaching, which can include using online applications such as YouTube and iPlayer; the school’s online portal or website; if the school utilises a virtual learning environment (VLE); individual pupil internet use, such as research and downloads for projects and classwork; and the use of any laptops or handheld devices that may put further stress on the connection.
This list is not exhaustive, and many other applications may require connectivity. Every school should consider any and every application that currently requires an internet or network connection, as well as any additional requirements expected in the near future.
The government is also working on an Internet Safety Strategy, and a green paper is expected to be released in the summer.
A report has been commissioned to provide up to date evidence of how young people are using the internet, the dangers they face, and the gaps that exist in keeping them safe.
Culture Secretary Karen Bradley is leading the drive. She said: “The internet has provided young people with amazing opportunities but has also introduced a host of new dangers which children and parents have never faced before.
“It is increasingly clear that some behaviours which are unacceptable offline are being tolerated or even encouraged online – sometimes with devastating consequences.
“We are determined to make Britain the safest place in the world to be online, and to help people protect themselves from the risks they might face.
“To do that we want to understand the full scale of the problem and explore how everyone – including government, social media companies, technology firms, parents and others – can play their part in tackling it.”