Many countries are realizing the importance of connecting their educational institutions to the Internet. Connectivity provides many benefits including access to an ever-growing volume of educational information, opportunities for collaboration and the use of on-line applications. In addition, it is important for students, as well as teachers, to learn information and communication technology skills to enable them to participate in the evolving knowledge society. School connectivity also helps enhance educational administration through the electronic exchange of forms, data and other information. It also achieves cost efficiencies by automating manual tasks and reducing expenses associated with textbook printing and distribution. The benefits are particularly attractive for remote schools where Internet access provides the vehicle for online learning and access to educational content.
The policies that enable schools to benefit from broadband connectivity can also be leveraged as vehicles to provide connectivity to marginalized and vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, the elderly, the unemployed, minorities and indigenous peoples. This module can thus also serve as a tool for considering the ways in which access to broadband can benefit groups with special needs.
In Emerging Markets and World-wide extending broadband connectivity to schools enables educators to take advantage of new and emerging content and tools that update and enrich curricula while providing individual instructors with tools that can facilitate and expand collaboration with colleagues both near and far.
For several decades, radio and television have been used to augment education in classroom settings, and to connect rural students to educational opportunities. Today, the power of computers and the availability of broadband connections enable a greater expansion of the types of content available, allowing higher levels of interactivity in educational settings.
Broadband connectivity allows students and teachers access to current online research and instructional materials that can include images, audio recordings, and videos. These materials augment and complement more traditional oral instruction and written materials. Combined with tools that allow for collaboration among students and teachers, broadband-enabled educational tools have the potential to be a “disruptive” but positive force in educational programs around the world, enabling the creation of more effective and engaging educational models.
When broadband service replaces a slower Internet connection, such as dial-up service, students and educators gain improved access to existing resources and materials that previously may have been too time-intensive to download — or were simply unavailable without the bandwidth provided by broadband connectivity.
Broadband connectivity also provides new opportunities and additional value to coursework designed to train people to use ICTs. This transforms isolated personal computers (PCs) or computer labs into tools for accessing information from around the world.
Despite significant differences in levels of development and educational programs around the world, broadband-enabled educational tools can be incorporated into curricula across all socioeconomic levels. Specific areas of focus can be customized to suit the needs of each community.
There is also evidence that the use of broadband connectivity as an educational tool for children acts as a motivating force for parents to obtain broadband service at home.3 Increased demand then attracts interest from governments and other organizations that may want to fund broadband deployment. Growing demand also helps commercial network operators that otherwise might be hesitant to offer services without a reasonable business case built on sustainable demand levels.
In addition to serving educational needs, broadband-connected schools can serve as ICT centers for their surrounding populations. In areas where low income, lack of infrastructure or other factors may present barriers to widespread broadband connectivity, policymakers can focus on using key public institutions — including schools — as ICT centers that offer access, training, and support services.