Poor internet access hinders education in rural areas

Children and young people with strong online access do better at school than those with a poor internet connection, research suggests. 

Findings from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) revealed a 25% increase in GCSE grades among students with regular internet access, while Learning Foundation research estimated that a million children in the UK with poor internet connection are expected to score a grade lower on their exam results than peers with a better connection. 

The suggestion comes as new figures released by Ofcom show that most people say they both need and expect a constant internet connection wherever they go, while ‘finding and downloading information for work or college’ was one of the most highly cited uses of the internet, with 33% of over-18s performing this activity in the last week. 

Internet access is now required for around half of all homework set, according to another recent study, while one in seven parents agree the internet is “essential” to their child’s education. 

However, one in 12 people aged 16 and above remain without internet access at home, Ofcom says. 

US research found that, while high-speed internet improved students’ academic outcomes post-secondary school, it increased pre-existing inequalities by ‘primarily benefitting those with more resources’. 

Paul Finnis, chief executive of the Learning Foundation, said: “We strongly believe that attainment and connectivity are closely linked. 

“Damien Hinds, the new education secretary, has just challenged the tech industry to lead an ‘education revolution’ for schools. This is only fair and possible if it is equitable and every schoolchild has the same opportunities to access learning at home as well as at school. 

“Rurality and poverty separately and combined are the two major factors in access to connectivity and for those children and families that fall into either or both of those categories, it will still be some time until they are able to access all of the benefits — social and educational — that connectivity has to offer,” Mr Finnis added. 

The ability to acquire information and communication technology (ICT) skills at school also has important implications for the future careers of children. A 2017 report by the European Commission found that 90% of jobs require some level of digital skills, while 94% of European workplaces use broadband technology. 

Mark Wheeler, chief executive officer at Whitespace, which helps to provide rural and remote communities with broadband connectivity, said: “There’s no doubt that children growing up in unconnected areas are at a distinct disadvantage in terms of their education and future careers. 

“While school and college curricula continue to evolve, requiring many assignments to be researched and submitted online, children and young people in parts of the UK are forced to remain with poor or no access, which directly hinders their academic performance and progress. This is an injustice that shouldn’t exist in 2018.” Poor internet access hinders education in rural areas

At the end of last year the government pledged to give everyone in the UK the legal right to demand a broadband speed of 10 megabits per second — the speed needed to meet the requirements of an average family, according to Ofcom — by 2020. 

However, this universal service obligation will be subject to a threshold whereby new infrastructure will only be provided to premises where the cost of installation does not exceed £3,400. 

“This caveat will leave people living in rural and remote communities — where the cost is likely to exceed this figure — no better off,” added Mr Wheeler. “Such families will be expected to cover the excess themselves or seek a different type of broadband connection. 

“Fortunately there are alternative options available, including the use of TV white space, which is helping many communities achieve the connectivity and speeds they’re entitled to.”

 

September 4, 2018

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