Schools must look to the future when connecting students to the internet


(Unsplash, 2019)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Oren Pinsky, Project Coordinator, Internet for All, Latin America, World Economic Forum Geneva

Abundant, cost-effective and reliable internet access is a basic pillar of any future-oriented education system. It democratizes student access to information and educational content; enables teachers to leverage cutting-edge teaching tools; eliminates geographical barriers; and facilitates interaction with teachers and colleagues. If applied wisely, internet access can also help improve lagging education systems, which are often challenged by issues such as lack of teachers outside large urban centres and inefficient book distribution logistics.

In the early 2000s, many countries around the world launched school connectivity programmes. In Uruguay, the United States and Australia, almost all schools today have internet-connected computer rooms. Other countries were less successful in implementing such programmes. In Brazil, for example, the school connectivity programme of the mid-2000s aimed to bring a 1 Mbps connection to every public school. Ten years later, when the programme had finally been deployed to most schools, there was limited practical use for such capacity. The recommended broadband speeds of today are 300 times faster than the project goal.

Many programmes also failed to acknowledge and adapt for innovation in connectivity-enabled learning and teaching models, as they were built around the “connect the school” paradigm. But connecting only the school has many problems and practical implications. For example, “flipped classrooms”, personalized learning and “one device per student” require connected students 24/7, in and out of school.

The so-called “homework gap”, where teachers are reluctant to ask students to use the internet outside school because many don’t have access at home, is another obvious flaw of these programmes, present even in developed economies. With half the world not connected to the internet, such flaws become very relevant.

The amount of time students spend in front of screens while in school is also a concern for many educators. School time, those experts say, should be used for student-teacher interaction, social collaboration and “soft” skills development. At home, students can leverage screen time for content and online interaction. That is not possible with programmes that do not account for out-of-school connectivity.

Image: Oren Pinsky

From a technology perspective, the early education connectivity programmes missed the mobile data revolution. When they were launched, smartphones and 3G/4G networks did not exist (the first smartphone was launched in 2008). This has serious cost, scalability and governance implications. Many students already own a smartphone, but cannot use it for educational purposes while in school. Connected schools today require costly onsite technicians to function properly, or risk low internet availability and intermittent service, defeating the purpose of being connected in the first place. Those technicians cost the schools three-and-a-half times more than the internet link itself.

An extreme case of this trend is Colégio Bandeirantes. A leading K-12 institution in São Paulo, Brazil, it uses internet intensively to support learning for its 2,800 students. Its IT staff exceeds 45 people. While this level of support is great for students of this school, it is neither sustainable nor scalable at a national level. The economics would not work, and there are not enough people to fill the almost one million roles it would create, especially outside the major urban areas.

Image: Interviews with IT managers from private schools in the São Paulo state (n=12, Aug/2016)

Building the 21st-century student connectivity programme

Countries willing to implement or revamp student connectivity programmes can and should leapfrog those early education-focused connectivity programmes. They should aim for 24/7 connectivity for students in and out of school, and select technologies that support such a vision. They should adopt forward-looking internet speed requirements, and take into account the mobile revolution – by taking advantage of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, for example. Economic sustainability and scalability should be considered, especially for indirect and other hidden costs such as support and maintenance.

Overall, the design of these new programmes should incorporate recent technological breakthroughs in pedagogical thinking and in mobile communications. This brings future-proofing and flexibility, so that teachers and school administrators can choose whatever methodologies and tools make most sense for students at any given time. A robust, future-proof and cost-efficient internet connection for students is the foundation of a 21st-century education.

A small school in the rural outskirts of Vitória de Santo Antão, Brazil, shows how this can be done. Escola Manoel Domingos de Mello was the test bed for a pilot jointly developed by Qualcomm and Telefônica, and implemented with the pedagogical support of the Recife Center for Advanced Studies and Systems (CESAR).

Even though it is located in a poor, remote area, it was the Brazilian school with the highest internet speed per student in 2017, and likely the one with the most reliable internet connection (based on qualitative assessments, as there are no statistics on internet availability – other than it is really important). This is an impressive achievement, especially because, in contrast to the 45+ IT staff of the (much larger) Colégio Bandeirantes, there are no onsite individuals dedicated to managing the connectivity infrastructure.

How can students of a rural school in a poor region of Brazil have some of the country’s better, faster and cheaper internet? What has been done to ensure students are connected not only at school, but also at home and in transit? And which governance, procurement and scalability innovations can enable this model to scale cost-efficiently to tens of millions of students? Answers to these questions contain important insights for any future-oriented education connectivity programmes.

Escola Manoel Domingos de Mello, in Vitória de Santo Antão, Brazil

Sítio do Oiteiro is a small rural village connected by a 15-kilometre dirt road to the city of Vitoria de Santo Antão, in northeastern Brazil. Its 600 inhabitants live on the output of small bean crops. The village’s children attend the only school in the region, which has 200 enrolled students from first to ninth grade. The school’s principal and six teachers come by bus every day from nearby cities. No internet provider has ever reached the village, but cellular and mobile data service is available – as for 99% of Brazil’s population – although not with enough capacity for school internet use.

To connect the school to the internet in the way 20th century programmes advised would require many resources. The school’s principal, who, like many other school principals in Brazil, did not complete a college degree, would need to specify and procure routers, switches and hotspots. She would also need to manage passwords, channels and interference, firewalls and content filtering. A team would have to be hired to monitor the network 24/7 to ensure reliability – or risk preventing teachers from using the internet in class. Instead, Escola Manoel Domingos de Mello chose to outsource all these technical activities to Mobile Network Operators (MNO), which have the scale and expertise benefit of running professionally managed networks for hundreds of millions of customers in Brazil.


These operators already employ tens of thousands of engineers and technicians who set up and manage connectivity networks much more efficiently than any single school, or group of schools, could. The MNO has installed dedicated infrastructure on school premises (a 4G small base station and a radio backhaul). Students and teachers, equipped with 4G-enabled tablets, use this infrastructure to access high-speed, reliable internet. Because of the MNOs’ economies of scale, they should be able to provide connectivity at a lower total-cost-of-ownership than the old programmes.

But the most important benefit of outsourcing the connectivity infrastructure to the MNOs is that students can be connected to educational content on the internet both in and out of school, 24/7. Students benefit from the virtually ubiquitous coverage that MNOs provide, remaining connected even when out of school (and those who live close to school benefit even more from high speeds). Providing out-of-school connectivity with 20th-century paradigms would be prohibitively expensive.

Future-oriented education connectivity programmes should:

– aim to connect students in and out of school

– leverage the expertise and scale of MNOs and the mobile eco-system for cost-efficiency and scalability

– avoid blindly replicating technological paradigms from 20th-century education connectivity initiatives, as the supporting technologies available have drastically evolved

This experience shows one way in which infrastructure can be deployed to provide connectivity to students 24/7, no matter where they live. This connectivity, together with teacher training and the curation of relevant educational content, is how education systems can take advantage of the current revolution and improve learning, which is the ultimate objective of deploying technology in schools.

This case draws lessons from a pilot that was implemented by Qualcomm and by Fundação Telefônica, under the leadership of Qualcomm Latin America President Rafael Steinhauser and Fundação Telefônica President Americo Mattar.











the European Sting Milestones

Featured Stings

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Impact Investment needs global standards and better measurement

FROM THE FIELD: ‘Miraculous’ music made by hearing-impaired children

On Youth Education: “Just a normal day in the life of a medical student”

EU-Turkey relations: Will Turkey manage to revive the EU accession process talks?

Multilateralism more vital than ever, as World War centenary looms: Security Council

ECB steadily continues monetary easing policy as EU economy gains momentum

October’s EU strong digital mix: From Safe Harbour to Net Neutrality, Roaming and Snowden

Europe turns out more jobs this summer

EU regional differences betray an unjust arrangement

World Retail Congress Dubai 2016: Retail’s night of nights

WEF Davos 2016 LIVE: Banking moguls continue brandishing financial Armageddon to intimidate us all but in Davos they worry about the very distant future

“There are many converging visions and interests between the One Belt One Road initiative and the Juncker Investment Plan”, Ambassador Yang of the Chinese Mission to EU highlights from Brussels

Could switching between summer and winter time end in 2021?

Parliament ready to fight for a different EU budget

Why are the financial markets shivering again?

Parliament makes it easier to organise a European Citizens’ Initiative

Military escalation will have ‘serious consequences’ for Yemeni civilians, warns UN Special Envoy

Austerity ends in Eurozone, Germany is isolated

This is why Dutch teenagers are among the happiest in the world

Does the EU want GMOs and meat with hormones from the US?

MEPs want ambitious funding for cross-border projects to connect people

Data show EU Economy in a stubbornly subdued state

Silk Road Unlimited

EU to Google: How to dismantle European search engines in 13 steps

Burundi: Inclusive dialogue ‘only viable option’ for resolving country’s political crisis says, UN envoy

It’s time for the circular economy to go global – and you can help

The next 48 hours may change the European Union

CHINA: five letters that could mean…

Faith can overcome religious nationalism. Here’s how

Our Digital Future

‘Agile’, multilateral response vital to combat terrorism – UN chief Guterres

Teamgum @ TheNextWeb 2014

Dangerous Trumpism in the Middle East with an anti-European edge

Charlie’s tragedy energized deeper feelings amongst Europeans; back to basics?

Food system failures in our age of abundance

South Korea once recycled 2% of its food waste. Now it recycles 95%

US prosecutors now target Volkswagen’s top management, upsetting Germany

EU to increase spending and improve delivery of education in emergencies and protracted crises

UN lauds special chemistry of the periodic table, kicking off 150th anniversary celebrations

UN expert condemns new sentence for jailed Venezuelan judge as ‘another instance of reprisal’

The deforestation risks lurking in the banking sector

Brexit effect: Public opinion survey shows that EU is more appreciated than ever

Disaster Medicine in Medical Education: the investment you just can´t afford to ignore

Here’s how data can shine a light on financial crime

EU Youth Report casts stark light on life for young Europeans

Syria: UN-backed watchdog says chemical weapon ‘likely used’ in February attack

“Two Pack” approved: Is democracy chased away from Brussels?

China Unlimited: an exclusive interview with the former Ambassador of Hungary to China

Can a Bavarian Oktoberfest beer indulger bring down the Berlin government?

3 autonomous vehicle trends to follow in 2019

UN’s Grandi slams ‘toxic language of politics’ aimed at refugees, migrants

Why the Fourth Industrial Revolution needs more arts graduates

Cyprus banks under scrutiny

This forgotten element could be the key to our green energy future. Here’s why

The European Sting @ the European Business Summit 2014 – Where European Business and Politics shape the future

If people aren’t responding to climate warnings, we need to change the message

Mali facing ‘alarming’ rise in rights violations, warns UN expert

10 million Yemenis ‘one step away from famine’, UN food relief agency calls for ‘unhindered access’ to frontline regions

On eve of Gaza border protest anniversary, UN’s top humanitarian official for Palestine calls for calm

EU-U.S. Trade Talks: European Commission presents draft negotiating mandates

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s