Three Key Recommendations
- Schools, Colleges and Universities should provide learners with an entitlement to a substantial minimum level of fast broadband connectivity which is based on number of learners and a rising expectation of increasing, institutional and personal use.
- Schools, Colleges and Universities should provide learners with a minimum entitlement to a safe, secure, resilient and robust organisation-wide Wi-Fi system for all their devices with access to both use, and contribute to, all learning resources when learners are not on the premises/campus.
- School, Colleges and Universities should build BYO (Bring Your Own) approaches into their immediate and medium term digital technology strategies. There are implications for VAT in this as education and domestic VAT rates are different. For a roll-out of BYO to be VAT neutral the VAT paid by family providers would need reviewing. This is an urgent task.
The advantages of higher bandwidth plus ready access to mobile devices are significant for providers and students. It allows Cloud computing (bringing with it savings in running costs), it allows for highly inclusive teaching practices to be adopted such as blended learning or flipping the classroom and enables on-line assessment. It makes the local education providers more attractive partners for local industry.
The British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) annual survey reported that 65% of primary schools and 54% of secondary schools considered themselves under-resourced in Wi-Fi connectivity. A significant number of surveyed schools also reported that they were under-resourced in broadband provision (42% of primary schools and 31% of secondary schools).
It is not possible to make a hard and fast recommendation about the levels of bandwidth needed or Wi-Fi provision. Each establishment will have differing requirements and face particular challenges. However, the bandwidth, Wi-Fi and digital technology provision not only needs to be suitable for existing needs but include a high margin for development and expansion – demand for bandwidth only ever increases.
A too simplistic crude “recommended” level based on existing usage would be for education providers in England to have around 1Gbit/s bandwidth. That isn’t good enough. Going forward we note that one of the metrics the UNESCO digital technology infrastructure survey uses is changing from bandwidth per establishment to a per head measure i.e. bandwidth per user (student), and it is quite possible that in future particular courses or disciplines may be accompanied with a recommended bandwidth/student requirement.) A more appropriate initial figure therefore would be 8Mbit/second per student.
Jisc (which runs the Janet network connecting all HEIs and FEIs) estimates to upgrade all Further Education Colleges in England to 1Gbit/s would cost around £6m. If HMG were to fund this on a one-off basis, it would send a very strong signal of Government’s commitment to the use of technology and enable and underpin a whole range of digital activities. We would urge all education providers to prioritise investment in higher bandwidth, both to make the most efficient and effective use of teaching staff but also to drive cost savings though use of Cloud technology and online content.
At present the EFA has developed standards setting out the minimum technology required for new build. There is no such guide for existing schools wishing to upgrade or expand. We would call upon the EFA to adapt their new build standards and make these freely available so as to provide a rough and ready guide for existing schools looking to enhance their technology infrastructure.
What’s happening elsewhere?
- The US has announced plans to provide 99% of schools and colleges with high speed broadband by 2017. This is part of the ConnectED Programme. The aim is for all schools to have at least 100Mbit/s now and a target of 1Gbit/s within five years. As part of the US ConnectED programme, private companies have pledged up to US$2 billion, including provisions of technology and equipment: Adobe, Apple, AT&T, AutoDesk, Esri, Microsoft, O’Reilly Media, Prezi, Sprint, and Verizon.
- All 10,013 schools in Malaysia must have a minimum connection of at least 2Mbit/s as part of the broader Malaysia Education Blueprint, 2013-2025, which aims to ensure that “all Malaysian students learn how to use ICT, and can leverage it to enhance learning”.
- Closer to home the Welsh Government has made £39m available to provide all schools in Wales with enhanced broadband and ICT equipment and have supported a Welsh common platform, Hwb, including substantial Welsh language content on iTunes U.
- Under the Connected Schools programme, the French Government is providing EU€5m to improve broadband connectivity for 9,000 primary and secondary schools.
- In Ireland, broadband is provided to schools via HEAnet (the Irish equivalent to Janet). All 780 post primary schools now have 100Mbit/s as part of a three year €30m Government programme.
- A shift to provision of mobile devices for staff and students is becoming the expectation in other key countries. For example, through the Australian Federal Government’s Digital Education Revolution Programme funding was available for every student to have their own mobile device, and there is now an expectation in Australian schools that 1 to 1 provision is the norm (e.g. Jamieson-Proctor et al. 2014; Clark, Twining & Chambers 2014; Fluck & Twining 2014; Newhouse et al. 2014).
- In the Lebanon, the Open Your Tomorrow programme will provide Lebanese students ages 6 to 18 with 3G-enabled tablets for educational and recreational purposes at a heavily subsidized fee. This is a joint programme supported by the Ministries of Telecommunications and Education, Triple C, Intel, BDL, Blom Bank, the two telecoms operators Alfa and Touch as well as Lebanon Post. The scheme aims to distribute 400,000 tablets in the first two years.
- Schools Colleges and Universities should have access to an independent, objective help/advice/support service for technology procurement and deployment.
Free independent advice on digital technology is already available to universities and colleges through JISC. This allows colleges to make digital technology investment decisions based on sound impartial advice and get the best digital technology solution for their institution. No such service is currently available for schools in England.
Schools on the other hand have embraced online communities like #UKEdChat and face to face exchanges like the many TeachMeets.
Anecdotal evidence reported to ETAG suggested a number of problems for schools resulting from a lack of reliable independent advice including:
- Poor broadband provision and inadequate Wi-Fi
- Schools unsure of strategic budgeting and planning for the recurrent cost of basic technology infrastructure
- Schools running obsolete and now unsupported computer operating systems
- Old and out of date server systems
- Schools not having suitable, up to date and adequate technical support
- Schools unsure how they compare with other schools in their use of technology
- Schools basing their digital technology on what is used at neighbouring schools and not on what they themselves need
All schools have control over their own budgets, including for digital technology. However for many schools budgets are small in real terms which rules out buying in expert consultants for all but the biggest projects. We want schools to be able to make decisions on digital technology based on proper impartial advice to get the best solution and achieve real value for money. There is advice available from membership organisations (e.g. NAACE, CLEAPSS) but there is a need for open, reliable advice.
This advice can be quite simple and in many cases FAQs are all that is needed. There is a mass of existing advice on You Tube and the wider internet and a simple guide to the most reliable sources on general issues such as Wi-Fi, tablets, apps, broadband resilience and online security would be suffice in most cases – often the key is knowing what questions to ask. DfE should work with Jisc, EFA and the sector in developing FAQ advice.
There is also a need for more bespoke advice to support the larger digital technology projects, although this does have a resource implication. DfE should work with Jisc and the EFA to identify possible options for providing bespoke advice including a contestable pot.
Three recommendations to think about
Connectivity and costs
- Schools/colleges should be given priority in any state-funded broadband rollout.
Since 2010 the Government has provided some £500m of funds to support broadband rollout, particularly in rural areas. Pupils and students at schools and colleges in these areas suffer twice over from poor broadband. Poor connectivity at school means they do not have access to the same types of online opportunity as elsewhere; this is exasperated by poor connectivity at home which in turn added to the inequity in access.
If Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were to ensure that any roll-out or upgrade of broadband prioritises schools and colleges this would achieve two things. First it would mean that all pupils at that school would have equal access to enhanced broadband at the same time. And second this would send a clear signal on the importance of broadband to education.
Wherever practical, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should prioritise those exchanges serving schools and colleges in any roll-out.
- The internet service providers (ISPs) should be encouraged to offer schools/colleges discounted rates for broadband. This might include using the collective power of learners to drive their 4G connectivity / device personal rates down. A company with 850 employees would get an aggressively good deal on devices and data. So should a school on behalf of its families.
As noted the Government has spent significant funds on broadband. For the ISPs this has provided income but also has allowed them to offer services to a new set of customers – enhancing their on-going revenues.
We also note that schools are billed in the same way as any other company although most of their usage is daytime and, for several months of the year during holidays, usage is zero. In several parts of the US and Europe, ISPs offer schools a reduced rate or zero cost of broadband. We have not been able to find any examples of this in the UK, although some equipment and software providers do offer discounts for educational establishments.
We acknowledge that the cost of broadband in the UK is among the lowest in the EU but for a school or college this still represents a significant cost and barrier to innovation. We recognise that ISPs are companies and have duties to their shareholders but feel this is an area where they can make a real difference in enhancing the use of technology in education.