Rationale for affordable broadband access in the Pacific Islands: Education

Connect the Blue Continent

Rationale for affordable broadband access in the Pacific Islands: Education

Introduction

Universal education has been globally identified as a priority development goal. For several decades, the provision of education material has been crucial to providing basic education capacity to communities, however the industrial-age approach to education provision does not keep pace with education in regions with widely accessible broadband speed internet. Without updated education infrastructure, there is a high risk of young minds slipping into the digital divide (see Broadband Commission links below). It is our contention that affordable broadband-speed internet is crucial to enable the Pacific Islands region to build a long term sustainable future for their communities in the digital age.

Risks and Opportunities

The two main challenges of education provision, which broadband access can alleviate, are tyranny of distance and provision of up-to-date information.

The geography and transport limitations across the Blue Continent make accessing education institutions difficult for many students.

At present, without school buildings, physical learning materials (ie costly textbooks) or teachers on islands, education can be inaccessible and the potential for further education is limited.

Schools and communities with internet access are better able to more frequently update teaching materials, however those without access or with only slow-speed risk lagging behind as more learning practices and materials require broadband-speed internet.

With satellite access, the University of the South Pacific has been able to establish a wide range of open access university courses (see Whelan references below). However, the ongoing costs of satellite are prohibitive for many citizens and access is not available to a significant number of unconnected islands.

The engineering and financial limitations of current satellite-based internet access emphasise the need for fibre-optic technologies and other higher-speed and more affordable technologies across the region, particularly for facilities such as video-conferencing to work at a practical and affordable level.

Physically isolated communities would benefit immeasurably through online education, including video lessons and conference call classrooms, so students can enjoy similar levels of engaged learning online as they might in a traditional classroom. With online monitoring, students can be as self-directed as is appropriate for their learning level (Wakefield 2013; see work by Prof. Sutga Mitra).

The concepts of shared education and pooling of lesson plans/learning objects are increasingly popular and allow for better use of knowledge resources. It can also facilitate the potential for a ‘guest lecturer’ style of lesson with specialist educators or researchers able to connect to communities, which would otherwise not be exposed to niche research areas (Pea et al 1994; Smyth, 2005).

Whelan (2008) identifies poor data collection networks and methods as challenges to the complete understanding of the needs and successes of ICT in Pacific schools. Considering the lack of funding available at present, innovative data collection is required. By improving the data on the relationship between education and ICTs, international development agencies would be better able to assess areas most in need, and the optimal approach to improvement.

Conclusion

It is unarguably essential that young people all over the world have access to education. With the advent of computer- and internet-based learning and knowledge sharing, the way we learn and our expectations of what we can learn has changed considerably. It is unrealistic to believe that young people can hope to engage in meaningful careers without the diversity of knowledge available online, and the capacity to use internet-based research. The Blue Continent is lagging behind significantly in this capacity building potential and we believe more focus and priority is needed across the region to stimulate investment in broadband infrastructure, skills, and systems.

Authors:  Elizabeth Hart, Chris Sampson

References:

Broadband Commission Working Group on Education ‘Technology, broadband and education: Advancing the Education for All agenda’ January 2013 http://www.broadbandcommission.org/work/working-groups/education/BD_bbcomm-education_2013.pdf

Broadband Commission, ‘Broadband “the missing link” in global access to education’ February 2013. http://www.itu.int/net/pressoffice/press_releases/2013/04.aspx#.UUpoto7zdhM

Pea, RD. Edelson, D. Gomez, L. ‘The CoVis Collaboratory: High school science learning supported by a broadband educational network with scientific visualization, videoconferencing, and collaborative computing’ Northwestern University. April 1994

Smyth,R. ‘Broadband videoconferencing as a tool for learner-centred distance learning for higher education.’ http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8535.2005.00499.x/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

Whelan ‘Use of ICT in education in the South Pacific: Findings of the Pacific eLearning Observatory’ 2008. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01587910802004845

Wakefield, J ‘TEDGlobal: Cloud schools offer new education’ 14 June 2013, BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22891283

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