In the news today from the BBC is the headline: Internet access a fundamental right?, leading with a report about a poll that reveals almost four in five people around the world believe that access to the internet is a fundamental right. The survey – of more than 27,000 adults across 26 countries – found strong support for net access on both sides of the digital divide.
This headline and the story it tells reveal just how significant the internet has become in our modern world. In countries around the world, including New Zealand, there are widespread efforts to ensure the provision of a robust, high speed network that reaches all parts of the community, in homes, businesses, schools etc.
I often speak about a project I did with a group of 14 year olds, when I challenged them to find out what would happen if we “turned off the internet”. After their initial responses about how it would affect their use of Facebook or online gaming, the students spent a week interviewing parents, neighbours and business people, and returned to class with a long list of services and businesses that would severely affected – in news, entertainment, banking, manufacturing, marketing to name a few. Almost every part of our economy and social infrastructure would be affected in some way.
Of interest to all was the fact that they considered schools would be among the least affected, based on their assessment that the internet, while present in a great many schools, hadn’t yet become a “mission critical” part of a school’s way of working. (This was something I did about four years ago, so would be interesting to see what the response might be like now).
But the argument in the BBC report for access for all is based on something far more important than simply economic benefits – it emphasises the fact that access to the internet is important for freedom of speech and participation in a social democracy. For me, these are important ideals, and underpin why we, as educators, must be pro-actively supporting the concept of “cyber-citizenship” among our students, to prepare them adequately for living in a world where the use of the internet in this way is becoming the norm.
The BBC have also published an interactive map showing how the internet has spread around the world between 1998 and 2008. The map shows in a series of progressions how various countries around the world have embraced the internet and made access available for citizens. Of particular interest to me is the fact that New Zealand appears right at the start (1998) as one of the few countries with “extensive” internet usage.
Just shows how things change – what might have been considered extensive in 1998 is certainly not the case any longer – certainly not from the point of view of speed, reliability and open-ness. Thus the current effort to roll out a super-fast, fibre network around the country.