Earlier in the year, the National Teacher’s Union expressed its dismay with changes being made to the government formula for allocating funds to schools across the UK; changes, they said, that threaten to widen the gap between the have and have-nots of education across the country. The fallout from this is still being felt, with countless pieces being written about the current state of education funding and the effect that it is having.
The Department of Education has come out and denied these claims, but it is clear that something is certainly lacking from the education system in the UK – and not just a sense of civility. The fundamental infrastructure that underpins much of the UK’s education system is in dire need of an upgrade; none more so than its startlingly inadequate broadband.
Topics such as automation, cyber-security, machine learning and, in general, the role that technology, from smartphones to quantum computers, will play is omnipresent. And they point to a future job market that in a few short years will look very different to the one that we have now. Preparations for these roles need to start in schools, as students have to have the skills needed for the future. At the moment, this simply isn’t the case, and the government has a lot to answer for.
Underlying infrastructure is an issue
While there has been a noticeable improvement in the curriculum, specifically with the introduction of coding in 2014, the real issue lies with the underlying infrastructure relied upon to actually teach these technological subjects – broadband.
Put simply, the state of the networks that provide connectivity to schools in the UK is atrocious. The speeds measured in large cities such as Birmingham and London are moving at a crawl – so spare a thought for schools situated in more rural areas, that are rarely served with adequate connectivity at the best of times.
The future of our economy rests on being able to provide the next generation with the digital skills to prosper in an ever-changing jobs market
Putting this issue into perspective, imagine the fallout if it was discovered that students were being made to write on blackboards, as there weren’t enough pens and paper to go around? Broadband must be seen as just as much of an essential as any other educational resource. Not only is it vital for student’s digital education, but also a crucial resource for all subjects, from science and history to English and maths.
But it’s not just the connectivity in schools that needs attention and investment. Home broadband speeds must also be addressed – after all, a good portion of learning takes place once students are at home. The government’s target of delivering super-fast broadband fails on two accounts: the speed that the roll out is taking place at is far too slow, and the definition of ’24 Mbps’ is a laughable speed to be called superfast.
Time to invest in broadband
As Brexit negotiations and general elections ominously rumbles forward, the UK must ensure that it can compete on an international stage, a process which begins within our education system. The government – regardless of who that may be post-election – needs to futureproof the network infrastructure that runs into schools. By our estimations, upgrading all 3,401 state-funded secondary schools to a far more robust speed of 1Gbps (1000 Mbps) would cost a paltry £30 million a year. Comparing that to the £55 billion being invested into HS2 certainly puts this investment into perspective.
There’s no getting away from the fact that education, and specifically the funding that fuels it in the UK, is in a tight corner at the moment. But the future of our economy rests on being able to provide the next generation with the digital skills to prosper in an ever-changing jobs market. When you look at it like that, the investment into broadband seems a clear path to securing the UK economy.
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