THE BLOG

Don't Let British Pupils Be Disconnected From the Digital Classroom

12/02/2016 10:11 | Updated 12 February 2016

There are currently many innovative attempts to bring internet connectivity to the developing world, such as Google's Project Loon - a network of balloons travelling high in the atmosphere to "connect people in rural and remote areas". Its laudable aim is to connect the two-thirds of the world's population that is currently lacking in internet access.

Living and working in London, the idea of lacking web access is almost unthinkable - indeed the trend toward the "Digital Detox" suggests some are beginning to suffer from too much connectivity. But a decent web connection is a pre-requisite for most of us in our careers and social lives.

So it's a startling thought that here in the UK, around 1.5million primary-school pupils currently lack decent access to the internet. A recent survey commissioned by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) - who I work for - and the education technology association Naace found that 38 per cent of primary pupils in the UK have poor access to the internet at school.

This survey of a representative sample of 1,204 schools across the UK found that 30 per cent of primary schools were under resourced when it comes to having a basic broadband connection, and almost half didn't have sufficient Wi-Fi. In secondary schools the picture is a little better, but not by much.

The implications of this are huge. It means teachers lack access to the massive digital filing cabinet of Open Educational Resources on platforms like TES.com, which has over a million teaching resources uploaded by teachers for teachers. It means that they won't be able to join the growing community of over a million teachers online setting homework on ShowMyHomework. And it means pupils lack access to the wealth of knowledge accessible online, from platforms like Wikipedia to BBC Bitesize, and learning aids such as Diagnostic Questions and Quizlet.

This issue was mentioned by education secretary Nicky Morgan at the launch of the education technology show Bett last month, who spoke of the government's long-term plan to invest £1.3 billion on broadband: "So that it doesn't matter where our children are - at home or at school, inner-city academies or countryside schoolhouses - they will have that access."

For pupils in the classroom today, and teachers trying to utilise new technology to help drive up standards of education, this long-term plan really cannot come to fruition soon enough. But even for those who are able to get access, sadly the future does not look bright in terms of IT investment. A total of 46 per cent of all schools surveyed feel they will be unable to maintain IT investments in the next school year, as belts are tightened in light of the government's Comprehensive Spending Review last year, where £600 million was cut from the Educational Services Grant.

The rise of new technologies in the classroom have been liberating in many ways - but this liberation does not come for free. Without the necessary IT infrastructure and a sufficient budget for educational software, pupils and teachers alike may fail to have access to the great promise of the Digital Classroom, and could end up being disconnected from the vast benefits it has to offer.

Surely in the United Kingdom in 2016, we shouldn't have need of Google's balloons to ensure UK schools have sufficient access to the internet?

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