Earlier this month, the National Teachers Union made some startling accusations regarding changes to the government formula for allocating funding to schools across the UK.
The changes, it said, squeezed school budgets and widened the gap between rich and poor students.
The Department of Education hit back, rejecting the claims. Who is right remains to be seen, but the fact such bickering is still commonplace highlights a wider issue – the British education system is not operating at the standard it should be. A big reason for this is inadequate broadband.
With more talk than ever of automation, cyber-security attacks and the role that computers and smartphones have in our everyday lives, the jobs that will need to be filled in 10 years’ time will look very different to those advertised today. We need to ensure our students are prepared for the future, but at the moment, they aren’t and the government has a lot to answer for.
While there has been some real advancement by the education sector to improve the subjects the modern student learns (take coding’s introduction to the curriculum in 2014 for instance) the real scandal lies with the infrastructure they rely on to actually do this – broadband.
The state of the networks that feed into our children’s schools is atrocious. Speeds picked up in classrooms in big cities like London and Manchester are positively sluggish, let alone in economically deprived areas like Yeovil or Stoke for instance.
Imagine the scandal if it was discovered students were being made to learn English with no books, or study trigonometry without a protractor? The poor broadband trickling into our schools must be paid the same attention as other school essentials. Yes, it is integral in teaching new digital skills – but more than this, it is the gateway to information on all subjects – from the sciences to history.
But it’s not just connectivity in schools that is an issue. The state of home broadband speeds must be addressed – after all learning takes place there too. The government’s target of delivering superfast broadband (defined as 24Mbps or more) to 95 per cent of the population by the end of the year is too slow, both in speed and delivery terms.
As Brexit looms, UK PLC must ensure it is able to compete on the international stage, and that begins with our education system. This government must futureproof the network infrastructure running into our schools. I estimate that upgrading all 3,401-state funded secondary schools to a robust 1Gbps (1000 Mbps) connection would cost a modest £30m a year.
This small, but strategic investment will send a message to the rest of the world that the UK is readying the next generation for a digital future.