Around the world, over 57 million children of primary school age do not have access to quality education and over 250 million children cannot read or write by the time they reach grade four. In addition, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) of the United Nations estimates that over 4 billion people have yet to connect to the Internet and the positive economic and social benefits that it enables. With dedicated effort, national policy programs can tackle these twin social challenges simultaneously.
Highlighting a path forward, today Cisco is launching a new report, School Connectivity for the 21st Century, which explores the various national initiatives of five countries that have achieved near universal school Internet connectivity. The report assesses the different government policies and programs that have been successful in extending Internet connectivity to primary and secondary schools in Ireland, New Zealand, Portugal, Uruguay, and the United States. Collectively, the case studies demonstrate that broadband Internet connectivity, as a complement to educational programs, improves outcomes and equips students with the skills necessary to live, work, and thrive in our increasingly digital world.
Most countries around the world have some sort of school connectivity program. Unfortunately, though, connection speeds are often slow and connectivity rarely extends past the front office and into classrooms. While some countries may be connecting schools, they may not be connecting teachers and students to the global learning community.
Effective implementation of public policy not only connects more students to the Internet, but also facilitates real improvements to educational outcomes. The report finds that:
- Broadband technology is an essential component in the iterative process of enhancing student achievement;
- Dedicated national school connectivity programs can successfully extend Internet access to the majority of a country’s schools within only four or five years;
- A range of funding mechanisms can be utilized to support school connectivity, from universal service funds to public-private partnership models; and
- The amount of connectivity within a school (i.e., the local area networks, LAN) is just as important as the amount of connectivity provided to the school.
Given these findings, we recommend that policy leaders focus on broadband Internet and ICT adoption within schools to accelerate the positive impact of technology on education. The report highlights ‘good practices’ in comprehensive national school connectivity programs. These include: a high level vision; a detailed plan with targets; secure and recurring funding; a comprehensive focus on technology requirements; an emphasis on the development and integration of relevant educational content tailored to the learning environment; concurrent training for educators; and regular monitoring and evaluation of the program.
Several technological aspects of school connectivity programs work in concert to ensure that a robust system is available for students and educators, namely: bandwidth to the school, within-school connectivity, district-wide access, and complementary hardware and software. The experience of the programs reviewed here demonstrates that, over time, per-student bandwidth needs are regularly updated and that local area networks (LANs), which provide connectivity within schools, are essential not only to extend connectivity throughout the campus, but also to achieve real outcomes by supporting collaboration and access to resources for every student and educator.
As Horace Mann, a pioneer in education reform in the 19th century, once said, “education, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men – the balance wheel of the social machinery.” Today, nearly two centuries later, let us apply the lessons of history to lingering global challenges by extending educational opportunities – as well as Internet access – to all.