4.3 Reaching disadvantaged populations
In addition to addressing broader educational and socioeconomic goals, the expansion of Internet connectivity to schools provides an important way to address the unique needs of special populations such as women and girls, persons with disabilities, indigenous groups, special needs and rural or underserved groups.
By extending Internet connectivity to schools, policymakers create centralized resources for providing resources tailored to the needs of these populations, whether they are sub-groups within larger schools or educational institutions dedicated to the needs of target populations.
For example, from 2001 to 2004, the Swedish telecommunications regulator, the PTS, was instructed to conduct pilot projects regarding access to bandwidth-intensive resources by persons with disabilities.184 One of the projects focused on the distribution of “talking books” to higher-education students with visual or reading disabilities. Specifically, the project involved enabling downloads of talking books from a central producer directly to university libraries – which then made the books available to students – as a replacement for postal delivery of such resources. Likewise, cloud computing now promises to facilitate delivery of assistive technology, such as screen readers, for blind and low-vision users.
While the Swedish example was narrowly focused, it shows the role that educational institutions can play in expanding educational opportunities for certain segments of the population. Similar models – using schools as distribution or training points for access to targeted resources – could be employed to reach various sub-groups within a school population.
In addition, educational institutions that primarily serve particular sub-groups, such as women or girls, or indigenous populations, could benefit from collaboration and curriculum-sharing with other, similar institutions. While such institutions may make up a small fraction of the schools in a given region, or even country, Internet connectivity allows educators and students at similar schools to share or jointly develop curricula or projects focused on the particular needs of their populations. Policymakers and educators are better able to justify the dedication of resources to curricula and institutions when the efforts will benefit larger populations, and broadband connectivity can transform multiple smaller populations into larger groups with similar needs.
Moreover, regional and national school systems can require the procurement of end-user equipment that is accessible to persons with disabilities, both in community ICT centres and classrooms. This ensures that children and adults with disabilities are able to use the available ICT equipment. 185
See Broadband for people with disability, Post & Telestyrelsen, September 28, 2004.
185 See Module 4 of the Connect a School, Connect a Community toolkit for more information on meeting the needs of persons with disabilities in schools and Section 4.4 in particular on procurement issues. http://www.connectaschool.org/itu-module/15/384/en/persons/w/disabilities/connectivity/Section4.4_procurement_policies/