Internet at schools: High speed and reliability matters
By Byron Scaf, CEO of Stile
Recently, I visited a school in Sydney and sat in on a fourth grade class. It was a model of 21st century learning. Students were exploring the psychological impact of advertising and the teachers engaged in modern classroom-based pedagogies — co-teaching, student collaboration and project-based learning. It was great to see.
Of course, technology played a huge part in enabling all of it to happen. It wasn’t the hero though, it was just part of that class’ learning ecosystem. Devices littered the room and students would quite naturally reach for them to conduct research, note their findings or create content for their presentations. As I continued my tour, I saw that the class I had just observed wasn’t alone and most of the classes at the school were just like it.
It dawned on me — for this school, internet connection was more important than electricity!
All the devices being used were battery powered. The school’s Wi-Fi infrastructure had battery back-ups too. So if the power went out, the students could actually keep working (once the excitement of the lights switching off had died down of course).
The same statement was simply not true of internet connectivity — not having access to the internet would severely disrupt learning. At this school, internet connectivity was a utility and treated as such. Just as it would be unacceptable to have more than the extremely occasional disruption to electricity, it is also unacceptable to have any major disruption to the internet connection.
So if internet is just another utility, why on earth are schools so chronically underinvesting in it? In some hilarious situations, a single student’s mobile phone actually has more bandwidth through the 4G mobile network than is provisioned at the entire school.
I spoke with another primary school of approximately 250 students about their power bill. They had solar power, but were still spending $3,800 — $4,300 per month on electricity. Energy costs are increasing but, strangely enough, no one has suggested rolling blackouts. In contrast, a solid internet connection for a school of that size would be approximately 100mbit and might run at a cost of $1,000 — $1,500 per month. I would suggest that this is a very reasonable comparative spend.
I challenge school principals to take a look at their power bill, and then take a look at their internet bill. I suspect they’re probably spending an order of magnitude less money on their internet connection. Unless the internet connection is already ‘utility grade’, why is this so?
If schools are serious about preparing students for the modern world, it’s time to treat internet as a utility.