School access to the Internet is considered an important policy for many countries. Benefits range from access to online education information, development of ICT skills and better school administration. In addition, the school Internet link can be leveraged to provide access and training to the wider community.
Despite the recognized worldwide importance of Internet access for educational institutions, many developing countries are finding it extremely challenging to connect their schools. Though funding is typically cited as the main reason, there are a range of other bottlenecks including inexistent or unrealistic school connectivity plans and a lack of coordination between various stakeholders. Prerequisite infrastructure such as electricity is often lacking, particularly in rural schools.
Though school connectivity requires substantial resources, there is evidence that the many potential funding sources available are not being adequately utilized. Funding is potentially available from a variety of sources including universal service funds, government education budgets, multilateral and bilateral donors, the private sector, non-governmental organizations as well as the parents of the students themselves.
The design of well-structured school connectivity plans with realistic timetables can have a big impact on increasing school Internet access throughout the world in a cost-effective manner. Regulatory and other measures can be taken to lower the cost of Internet access to make school connectivity more affordable. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, including through licensing requirements to provide free or reduced-cost Internet access to schools, allocating spectrum at no cost to schools for wireless Internet connectivity, or leveraging access to NRENs or fibre backbones. Low-cost computing devices, mobile phones, applications and content stored on common servers or in the cloud, as appropriate, can be used to reduce the cost of end-user equipment, applications and content.
These plans should be created with input from all stakeholders to achieve success, enhance coordination and ensure that potential donors are aware of them. The plans should also be tied to monitoring and evaluation tools so they can be modified and improved with experience in order to maximize their effectiveness. Though school connectivity cannot be achieved overnight, a plan with medium-, short- and long-term objectives can provide a roadmap to the day when the target will eventually be reached.