3.3.3 Which schools to connect

Very few developing countries have the financial, technical, personnel or logistical resources to quickly connect all schools to the Internet -- although in at least one case (Macedonia) it has been done in less than a year (see case study on Macedonia). If all schools are eventually to be provided with Internet access through a top-down process, coordinated by the Ministry of Education, then priorities need to set about which schools should be covered first by the connectivity plan.

In some countries, there is no plan or, even if one exists, implementation is slow or blocked because of a lack of government funding. In those cases, there may be bottom-up initiatives, driven by NGOs or schools themselves, for connecting educational institutions. Another possibility is hybrid approaches where there are national connectivity programmes funded by the government but schools have to apply for funding.

Table 3-2: Approaches to Selecting Schools for Connectivity

APPROACH

ADVANTAGES

DISADVANTAGES

Top-Down
Centralized agency identifies schools to be connected (e.g., primary, secondary, tertiary; public, private; urban, rural)

  • Guarantees uniformity in provision of connectivity
  • May provide capacity training and support to teachers
  • Offers economies of scale – the government can establish attractive agreements with service providers for connectivity, equipment, service fees maintenance, support, etc.
  • May help to prioritize which schools should receive connectivity
  • Lack of direct contact between recipient schools and centralized agency may lead to gap in views of connectivity needs or goals
  • Too much uniformity can create a one-size-fits-all approach and a mismatch between funding and needs
  • Lack of a central plan or complacency by Ministry of Education may delay school connectivity
  • Can create a lack of transparency in school deployment process

Hybrid
Centralized agency decides on national specifications for connectivity but individual schools must apply

  • Involves schools in implementation of connectivity and usage of ICTs in education
  • Provides guidance and consistency on technical solutions
  • Makes schools focus on specific needs and how to meet those needs
  • Can ensure funds are available
  • School selection more transparent
  • Local schools may not have a sufficient understanding of the benefits of Internet access and use of ICTs in education
  • Local schools may lack personnel qualified to manage new technologies
  • Schools may not be aware of the availability of funds for connectivity
  • Schools that do not meet requirements remain unconnected

Bottom-Up
Schools arrange for their own connectivity through their own funds or funds offered to them by private sector or NGOs

  • Schools that have resources can implement connectivity without delay
  • Schools can select solutions that are appropriate to their circumstances
  • Some development partners are willing to fund smaller pilot projects rather than large-scale programmes
  • Schools do not benefit from economies of scale
  • Integration of local connectivity solutions into eventual government-wide plan becomes more complex
  • Long-term sustainability uncertain

Governments need to decide which educational levels (e.g., primary, secondary, tertiary) the connectivity plan will target. The number of schools and students in most countries resembles a pyramid structure, with tertiary institutions having fewer students, followed by secondary schools and then primary schools.

Most countries have initially focused on secondary schools. One reason is that tertiary institutions (i.e., colleges and universities) are often administered differently and have their own plans and priorities. Another is that universities in most countries generally already have Internet connectivity. In terms of primary and secondary schools, the number of institutions is a key factor. Since there are fewer secondary schools than primary schools, it is more cost-effective to provide connectivity to the former. It is also felt that secondary students, being older, will benefit more from having Internet connectivity and are closer to entering the workforce, which increasingly requires ICT skills. This is not to say that primary schools should be ignored, but rather sequenced for later connectivity.

Figure 3-3: Size Relationship among School Levels

Countries also need to decide the type and locations of schools to be connected. In terms of public (i.e., government owned) or private schools, the former are almost always a priority, given that planning and funding is from the Ministry of Education, whose main focus is on the public school system. It is also assumed that private schools have greater resources to fund their own connectivity.

While it may be socially desirable to connect rural or remote schools, in some countries providing access to large urban schools will have an initially greater benefit by covering more students at a lower cost. For example, in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, less than 15 per cent of primary school students live in rural areas. On the other hand, in countries such as India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, more than half of all pupils do.

Table 3-3: Distribution of Primary Students by School Location, 2008Distribution of Primary Pupils by School Location

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, A View Inside Primary Schools: A World Economic Indicators (WEI) Cross-National Study, 2008

In Namibia, schools to be connected to SchoolNet, a non-profit organization providing sustainable Internet access to schools, are selected based on a number of factors and scored based on a point system. Factors include the school level, whether there is access to electricity and telecommunications, teacher to student ratios, and distance from the nearest town.74 Schools are allotted points based on these factors, and the point totals are used to identify the highest-priority schools.

Figure 3-4: SchoolNet Selection Criteria, Namibia

pol_reg_school_connect_fig3_6

pol_reg_school_connect_fig3_6

Source: Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

Schools serving specific groups, or in particular locations, have been targeted for special school connectivity programmes in some countries. In Canada, the First Nation75 SchoolNet programme provides Internet access, computer equipment and technical support to schools on reserves for aboriginal peoples throughout Canada, particularly those schools not yet connected to the Internet.76In Chile, where the majority of students are in private schools or schools funded by municipalities, the country’s Enlaces programme targets school connectivity for federally subsidized public schools.

An inventory of school infrastructure will help determine the potential for connectivity, as well as the need for different connectivity models that fit different schools' circumstances and needs. The inventory includes identifying which schools already have Internet access, and whether that access could be improved. The Ministry of Education, after all, may not be aware of schools that have been connected through local or NGO initiatives.

The inventory also can include identifying which schools have supportive infrastructure, such as telephone lines and electricity. Schools might then be classified by their potential for connectivity and the type of connectivity to be made available according to their infrastructural capacity. Pakistan has proposed the following categorization:

“The TIU [Technical Implementation Unit] will establish categories ranging from “no infrastructure” for technology in some rural areas, to “high-level” infrastructure in many urban schools. Thousands of non-electrified, rural primary schools might only be able to use battery-powered devices and fall into a low-technology category. Urban schools might be able to support a laboratory of new computers with high bandwidth Internet connections through a local area network, and thus fall into a high-technology category. Schools will receive ICT “packages” in accordance with the “readiness” category. Ultimately, the goal must be for low-technology schools to move upwards to higher technology categories.”77

74 SIDA, Evaluation of Swedish Support to SchoolNet Namibia. (2004).
75 In Canada, the term First Nations refers to indigenous groups in the country.
76 First Nations SchoolNet Programme, available at: http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/edu/ep/index1-eng.asp
77 http://www.unescobkk.org/uploads/media/NICT_Strategy_For_Education_in_Pakistan_-__Mar_2007.pdf

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