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Classroom connectivity

Natalie Duffield, CEO of intechnologyWiFi, discusses how we can solve the connectivity problem in schools

In today’s digital age it is extremely important that students have a comprehensive ICT education in order to prepare them for success in life after school. Yet recent research from the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) has shown that more than half of UK state schools have poor access to ICT and computers.[i] Most shockingly, the research revealed that 65% of primary schools and 54% of secondary schools consider themselves to be under resourced in Wi-Fi connectivity – heavily limiting how effective schools can be when initiating IT strategies. 

Connectivity problems on this scale mean that there is a real risk of a digital divide, as students being educated in environments with poor web access will not develop essential technology skills. As Carole Wright, the director of BESA, has said “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”. While there is no easy fix, there are changes that could be made that would improve the situation significantly.

Firstly, when selecting their Wi-Fi, schools need to make sure that their hardware is up to the job of providing simultaneous connectivity to many pupils on multiple devices at once. Installing an effective Wi-Fi network in a school is not just a case of putting a few Wi-Fi access points in the corridors – it requires far more robust technology. In fact, most Wi-Fi solutions are not up to the challenge of providing the distribution levels needed for a school’s high-density requirements. 

The issue many schools have is that they source different parts of the solution from different providers. Schools that are buying basic Wi-Fi hardware from one niche supplier and then bolting on other parts of the solution are buying into a heap of problems. When schools create a patched up system like this, there are likely to be gaps. Furthermore, there will almost immediately be problems with maintenance as there isn’t a company who can take responsibility for the overall solution. This results in a perfect storm of poor quality Wi-Fi, with problems extremely difficult to rectify when they inevitably develop. 

Secondly, schools need to make sure their wireless infrastructure is supported by a good connection to the internet. For consumers, a poor upload speed is not a big deal – providing the download speed is up to scratch. However, in schools, fast upload speed is imperative, as it enables teachers and students to share material online – a practice which is now prevalent in more and more schools. A fast upload speed also allows teachers to share materials between schools and campuses, creating a far more collaborative education system. 

It is predicted that by 2020 there will be shortage of up to 900,000 ICT professionals across Europe,[ii] therefore education in ICT has never been more important. Ultimately, schools need to be given more guidance in helping them choose which technologies are right for them. With very little support available to help schools decide which solution is the best one, many choose entirely based on price – enabling them to tick the “Wi-Fi provision” box within budget. But going on cost alone is not the answer – the key thing schools need to look for is exactly what is being provided, by who and how it works together. The skills of the future generation shouldn’t be squandered because schools cannot connect to the internet effectively.

[i] https://www.besa.org.uk/news/besa-press-release-digital-divide-emerges-new-research-finds-poor-pupil-access-computers-half

[ii] https://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/grand-coalition-digital-jobs