From education to employment

Bridging the digital divide: Empowering education through enhanced connectivity

Steven Winter

Education is the cornerstone of societal progress, empowering individuals and communities to thrive in an ever-changing world. However, the digital divide continues to hinder educational opportunities, particularly in rural and underserved areas. Limited connectivity in education in the UK is a critical issue that needs to be addressed.

Connectivity issues have had a substantial negative impact on organisations, with Cradlepoint’s State of Connectivity report revealing that an hour of downtime for a global business can cost £290,000. On top of this, connectivity problems have resulted in greater operating costs for 47% of businesses, and 33% report losing potential business as a result of connectivity issues.

Over half of the respondents (59%) believe that their government has not made sufficient efforts in this regard, emphasising the need for further investment in connectivity projects. Cellular connectivity emerges as a solution, with 89% of respondents already using it as part of their business operations, particularly for network failover during downtimes. Its flexibility, scalability, and ability to be immediately deployed in disaster areas make cellular connectivity a sustainable alternative to cabled networks, especially in rural or remote areas where laying fibre optic cables may not be feasible or cost-effective.

The digital divide disproportionately affects students everywhere, but in particular in rural and underserved areas, leaving them without reliable internet access and connectivity. This divide hampers their access to online resources, virtual learning platforms, and collaborative tools that their urban counterparts readily enjoy, perpetuating educational disparities and limited opportunities for equitable learning experiences.

Connectivity’s impact on education

Insufficient connectivity significantly impacts education and prevents students from acquiring the skills necessary for success in a modern economy, as reported by approximately 82% of participants. Access to online materials and virtual learning programmes is particularly challenging for remote students.

To unlock the full potential of all students, it is crucial to improve connectivity within education. For example, 84% of respondents believe improving free connectivity would bridge the digital divide between poorer and wealthier students. As such, Governments, policymakers, and industry leaders must recognise the importance of investing in reliable connectivity infrastructure to create a future where every learner, regardless of location, can thrive in an interconnected world.

Enhanced connectivity opens doors to innovative educational models, such as distance learning and virtual collaboration platforms. Students in remote areas can connect with expert educators and access specialised courses that may not be available locally. Virtual classrooms provide opportunities for interactive learning experiences, transcending geographical boundaries and ensuring that no student is left behind.

Connectivity also facilitates professional development opportunities for teachers. Equipping them with the latest teaching methodologies, subject knowledge, and technology integration skills through access to online learning platforms, webinars, and virtual conferences. This continuous professional growth enables teachers to provide a more enriching and adaptive learning experience for their students.

Educating on Private Cellular Network

Private Cellular Networks (PCN) are one type of connectivity method that can help narrow the gap for students. When compared to Wi-Fi, PCNs provide flexible connectivity over large areas, such as university campuses, with greater network performance and predictable bandwidth prices. In combination with the network slicing capabilities provided by 5G Standalone (SA) networks, IT teams can guarantee that crucial applications are supported regardless of the network demand. By implementing this kind of connectivity, schools can guarantee that students always have access to educational resources at all times while integrating campus-wide infrastructure such as video surveillance, virtual learning labs, building management and a host of other applications that are overwhelming existing Wi-Fi networks.

Additionally, schools can replace sub-standard connectivity for students at home. For example, during Covid, some schools issued MiFi hotspots depending on the students existing home connections. But what schools’ IT administrators got was a headache when having to troubleshoot unmanaged devices. Further to this, students had less than stellar experiences with their connection. However, by placing pre-configured 4G or 5G routers inside students’ residences institutions can pre-configure the routers, add much-needed content filters to block unsavoury sites, troubleshoot connectivity issues, and deliver critical updates via a cloud interface. By remotely fixing issues, IT workers do not need to physically visit the sites to ensure they are up to date and secure. Saving valuable time for IT workers, and costs for the organisation.

Deploying 5G routers guarantees that students may still connect to the educational resources they require, regardless of the circumstance, illness or other barriers preventing them from entering the classroom. Additionally, cellular connectivity offers greater dependability for routine tasks like supporting online tests, watching school sporting events, or streaming CCTV camera footage on-site for added security.

Preparing students for the future

In an increasingly interconnected and technology-driven world, bridging the digital divide through enhanced connectivity is crucial. It equips students with essential digital literacy and technological proficiency skills, preparing them for success in the 21st-century workforce. Access to online resources, coding platforms, and collaborative tools cultivates critical thinking, problem-solving, and digital communication skills, empowering students to navigate a technology-dependant future with confidence.

Investing in reliable infrastructure, such as PCNs, expanding broadband geographical coverage, promoting digital literacy, and implementing targeted educational programmes are essential steps to ensure equitable access to educational opportunities. Governments, policymakers, and communities need to recognise the urgency of this issue and allocate resources accordingly. Public-private partnerships can also play a vital role in bridging the connectivity gap.

By collectively addressing the digital divide in education, it empowers individuals and contributes to the progress and prosperity of societies as a whole. Education is a fundamental right, and by embracing technology and enhancing connectivity, we can ensure that every learner has an equal opportunity to reach their full potential. Education should know no boundaries, where knowledge is accessible to all, and where connectivity becomes the catalyst for transformative change in the lives of millions.

By Steven Winter, Public Sector Regional Sales Manager, Cradlepoint

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