Technology - Schools' access to internet a 'national disgrace'

27th September 2013 at 01:00
Postcode lottery of connectivity hampers digital learning

Huge disparities in the quality of internet connections among Scottish schools have been revealed by new figures.

The situation has been described as a "national disgrace" and fears have been expressed that schools will be badly hampered in delivering the new National qualifications.

Some 30 of Scotland's 32 local authorities provided figures to Holyrood magazine under the Freedom of Information Act. Only 232 of 2,603 sites, or 9 per cent, met the recommendation of 100 megabits per second (Mbps).

In some authorities - including Argyll and Bute, Edinburgh, Highland, Orkney and Renfrewshire - the information supplied suggested that not one school met the minimum recommended standard, made in January by the ICT in Education Excellence Group, which the Scottish government commissioned last year.

In many primaries, the bandwidth was 2Mbps. This included well over 100 schools in South Lanarkshire, although a spokeswoman for that council said a "major upgrade of infrastructure and increased bandwidth" would take place from 1 October.

But the figures do not show a simple urban-rural divide, as many city schools are also struggling with very low bandwidth.

"The connectivity to Scottish schools continues to be a postcode lottery and is a national disgrace," said Laurie O'Donnell, visiting professor of learning innovation and technology at the University of Abertay. "We seem to be able to find #163;1.4 billion to build another bridge across the Forth, important as that may be, but have no costed commitment that would enable our teachers and learners to take full advantage of online learning."

Professor O'Donnell added: "How can a school in an Angus town have better connectivity than one in the centre of Glasgow? And in South Lanarkshire, it looks like many schools have little more than a domestic connection."

Bruce Robertson, who speaks on IT for education directors body ADES, said the findings were "not that surprising" given councils' mixed approach to investment in ICT.

"We are not the only nation with such problems and the telecommunications companies should be required to have significantly discounted rates for education infrastructure," he said. "Councils should also recognise the importance of good bandwidth and plan capital investment accordingly."

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, said it was essential for schools to have reliable access to IT.

He added that the aim of Glow, the digital network for Scottish schools, to encourage more distance learning and sharing of materials, "can only be successfully realised if the core infrastructure is put in place to allow all schools, in all parts of Scotland, to make full use of this technology".

Greg Dempster, general secretary of primary school leaders body AHDS, said the figures were "disappointing" but that providing hardware, such as tablets, could be a greater problem. "You can do a lot with IT without broadband - but you can do nothing if you haven't got the hardware," he said.

An Education Scotland spokeswoman said: "Local authorities are responsible for managing local internet access and bandwidths for their schools."

She added: "Work is being undertaken to consider the impact of infrastructure issues on schools and local authorities in the use of technology for learning and teaching, including wireless connections, bandwidth and 'bring your own' devices."

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