Rural broadband access – is it still an issue?

Caroline Wright at BESA asks: Is the ‘equal opportunities’ education system letting down rural schools due to poor connectivity?

This is a question that has been asked many times in the past and continues to be a topic for discussion especially given the modern demands of being online at all times and the sheer number of devices connected to the internet.

Over the few decades BESA (British Educational Supplies Association) has carried out research into many different aspects of ICT in schools through its annual ICT survey.

In BESA’s ‘Information and Communication Technology Report in UK State Schools’, carried out in September 2016, it was found that 54% of a primary school pupil’s typical week was spent exposed to ICT with the number being slightly higher in secondary schools with 56%. This was a small increase of 4% in primary and 6 % in secondary from 2014. This exposure can include anything from interactive whiteboards, which claimed the majority of time in 2014, to personal tablets, the use of which is now on the rise. These numbers are set to increase in 2017 with the introduction of ‘bring your own device’ schemes being put into place.

With the data from these reports constantly changing, it is important to understand if connectivity is still a problem for the UK’s rural schools.

The Telegraph released an article stating that it is still a big issue that many schools, teachers and pupils are facing in 2017. The article links to a report, State of Rural Services 2016, in which it is recorded that rural communities are suffering with their lack of broadband and that includes school children.

The many ways in which schools are affected by their lack of internet connection is vast.

Firstly and probably the most obvious issue, is the teaching of ICT, including coding, an increasingly vital skill for children to learn in this modern world. Schools with little or no internet connection are then unable to access coding programmes online, making teaching it very difficult.

The internet is a fountain of knowledge with available materials on a plethora of subjects. This range of materials is either not available or very difficult to access for those who do not have sufficient internet at school and for many the case is that they cannot access the internet in their nearby homes either. This is essentially giving children with access a greater advantage over the ‘have-nots’.

Online software can help teachers with time-saving solutions such as general planning and school duties. EdTech company Milk, for example, has developed planning software which uses cloud technology in order for teachers to be able to spend less time planning and more time teaching. In BESA’s 2016 ICT report, 25% of primary schools and 15% of secondary schools stated that their main reason for not progressing to cloud technology was a lack of reliable broadband. A lack of internet isolates schools and gives teachers in less rural and urban areas greater access to more resources.

The government developed the broadband investment initiative to get reliable, high-speed broadband for those in rural and hard to access areas, which is now showing positive results. The proportion of the UK that can get high-speed broadband has already risen from 45% to 90% in the last seven years. More rural schools have been able to access internet for their teachers and pupils. But that still leaves 10% of the nation going without.

Although the problem of rural schools’ access to the internet is being dealt with, it is still an ongoing problem as our education system should be giving all children a fair and high standard of education, especially when so much of the modern curriculum is now internet based.