Schools need faster broadband

I always look forward to the publication of the 2020 Trust's report on ICT in schools, and this year's edition focuses attention on the issue of broadband in schools. This is extremely relevant at the moment as the government embarks on its roll-out of Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) across the country, and the Ministry of Education presses on with its Network for Learning (N4L).

This year's report reveals that while most schools are ready and eagerly awaiting the roll-out of the government’s ultra-fast broadband initiative, principals believe they will need help in making full use of the network capabilities. Specifically this includes further professional development for teachers, upgrades to existing information and communication technologies (ICTs) and better technical support.

Students continue to have good access to ICTs at school. There is now an average of one computer for every three students with network access in most classrooms. Over half of all classrooms are now equipped with a data projector and nearly one-third with an interactive whiteboard. Most principals report that the internet is having a significant impact on teaching and learning but bandwidth constraints and data caps are constraining usage.

“It appears that the deployment of school internal infrastructure is largely in good shape and the deployment of ultra-fast broadband is coming just in time to remove the internet bottleneck,” said Laurence Millar, chairperson of the 2020 Communications Trust.

The relatively high penetration of computers and networks in New Zealand schools has been achieved at a significant cost. On average, schools are spending around 11 percent of their operating grants on ICT, compared with ten percent two years ago. This represents an annual spend by schools of $105M from a total operating grant of nearly $1B.

As in previous surveys, there is very little correlation between socio-economic status and student:computer ratios. These have remained largely constant across various school decile rankings.

“We welcome this finding,” said Mr Millar. “Our Trust is committed to ensuring that every child has equitable access to ICTs, in their schools and their homes. It is pleasing that the socio-economic status of a school does not appear to be limiting this access in any significant way, at least while students are at school. Other findings in the report however suggest that many students do not have access to the internet from their homes and this remains an ongoing concern in terms of providing equitable learning opportunities.”

Other findings in the report are:

  • School curriculum areas with the most computer and internet use are Computer Studies, English, Mathematics and Social Science.
  • Online education resources appear to have a relatively low level of usage by students; it is not clear whether this is due to a lack of awareness or whether the resources are not perceived to be relevant.
  • The usage of social software for learning has declined significantly since 2009, although YouTube, Skype, Google Docs and Flickr remain popular.
  • 62% of schools provide remote access for parents to school online resources with access to school news being the most used; around one quarter are accessing resources to support their children’s learning.
  • For the most part schools are satisfied with the internet safety resources provided by NetSafe.
  • The use of room-based videoconferencing systems has increased to 45% of all secondary schools, compared to 35% in 2009.
  • Wireless connectivity has increased with half of all schools now providing wireless access across their school, compared to 33 percent in 2009 and 23 percent in 2007.
  • Schools, especially secondary schools, are starting to permit the use of student-owned portable digital devices at school, but most do not yet permit these devices to connect to the school network.
  • Schools strongly support bulk purchasing and central procurement of ICT products and services, including software licensing, server infrastructure, technical support, computers and commodity internet services.
  • 76% of all schools have an ICT strategic plan and 68% update their plans at least every two years.
  • Most secondary schools are aware of KAREN and would like to use KAREN for accessing educational resources.
  • Most schools are either already using cloud computing services or are willing to consider using them for services such as Google mail, student management systems, Google Apps, learning management systems, library management systems and data backups.
  • A quarter of all schools are still dumping computers in landfills, slightly fewer than in 2009 (28%); 45% took advantage of the annual eDay programme in 2010 for recycling electronic waste.

 

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