It’s a sad state of affairs when over half of the schools in the UK are suffering from a lack of access to high-speed Internet. However, a recent report has shown that 65% of primary schools and 54% of secondary schools have complained about lack of Internet connectivity, leaving thousands of children on the lower end of the digital divide.
More and more we are seeing some of the most vulnerable members of society missing out due to the digital divide, with Fluidata reporting just a few weeks ago that thousands of families could soon miss out on child tax breaks due to the fact that they do not have Internet access. Not only has the government been lambasted for their lack of knowledge over the digital divide but the British Educational Suppliers Association (Besa) has called upon them to help schools across the UK.
Discussing the issue, Besa's director Caroline Wright, said: "It is of great concern that pupils are being denied access to innovative and effective digital learning because of poor Internet connectivity in more than half of the UK's schools. In today's digital society, classroom connectivity to an online world of knowledge and resources should be a right for every student in their place of learning and not a lottery. If a teacher standing at the front of the class knows that they have unreliable Wi-Fi they are less likely to use internet-connected resources and devices."
Meanwhile, Andrew Ferguson, founder of ThinkBroadband, said: "A class of 30 pupils doing media-rich research can easily fill a 100 Mbps connection and without sufficient management of the connection it is possible for one pupil to use all the available bandwidth." Figures have recently shown that schools which have complained over their lack of Internet connectivity also have lower scores when it comes to ICT, highlighting a direct correlation between the two.
Welsh schools in particular are claiming that they are falling behind when it comes to digital literacy, with over half of Welsh students claiming that they think their schools’ online technology is “insufficient”. In response to these findings a Welsh government spokesperson said: “Professor Graham Donaldson is currently undertaking a wide-ranging independent review of curriculum and assessment arrangements, including digital literacy. He is due to report back early in the new year.
“As part of his review, Professor Donaldson will be considering the recommendations made by the independent ICT Steering Group on the future of computer science and ICT in schools in Wales - including the group's recommendations in relation to digital literacy. In the meantime our Learning in Digital Wales Grant has enabled almost every school in Wales to benefit from improvements in enhanced Internet connectivity or in-school Wi-Fi provision.
“This is opening up real opportunities to deliver 21st Century teaching and learning in today's digital society. We are addressing many of the issues raised by this report and we will look carefully at the information to identify any further potential improvements in our provision.”
Even though the Welsh government claims that they are trying to reduce the digital divide many still feel that not enough is being done. The biggest issue with the digital divide is that it is widening rapidly so if something isn’t done soon even more schools across the UK will start to suffer, ultimately leading to a vicious cycle. To make matters worse, most businesses now require applicants to have high levels of computer literacy in order to be considered for certain vacancies, meaning that children who are missing out now will continue to suffer in the future.
Max Stoner, Business Sales Manager at Fluidata, said: “Fluidata have a number of education establishments on our network and one thing that is clear is that when more bandwidth is made available they will use it. In fact they are probably our biggest, most consistent users of Internet bandwidth. Such statistics naturally turn ones thinking to whether the educational experience and opportunity to those without fast access is inferior in some way.
“The de-centralisation of Schools since 2010 and the opportunity for them to make their own purchasing decisions has arguably lead to many schools benefiting from better IT services, but not all will until better IT infrastructure exists across the whole of the UK. The potential for inequality between those with and without good access is clearly a cause for concern.”
Fluidata’s Service Exchange Platform (SEP) is just one remedy to the issue of the UK digital divide, however without government support and further education on the matter more school children will continue to miss out. Hopefully, these recent figures will act as a wake-up call to the government who needs to sorely invest in protecting the UK’s schools now and in the future.