Roll on broadband roll out…

Yesterday’s announcement of the first towns in NZ to benefit from Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) is not before time. It’s good to see some movement in this area after months of behind the scenes deliberations and uncertainty. It’s predictable that in times of economic uncertainty and constraint that large scale investment in things like UFB will come under intense scrutiny – but this one is vital for NZ’s future, and delays will be costly in terms of ensuring the future for our kids and their kids when it comes to NZ’s position in the global economy.

Sadly, so much of the “sell” for UFB is around providing faster internet, citing the ability to download videos over the internet at much faster speeds as a selling feature. This approach plays right into the hands of politicians and others who are nervous about the expenditure required – after all, who wants to promote a nation of couch potatoes watching even more drivel on our screens?

While there is a lot of rhetoric about NZ’s future as a Knowledge Economy, there is no doubt (in my mind at least)  about  the importance of ICTs in our future as highlighted in the MED’s background paper thus:

ICTs are best regarded as the facilitators of knowledge creation in innovative societies (OECD, 1996). The new economics looks at ICTs not as drivers of change but as tools for releasing the creative potential and knowledge embodied in people.However, the ICT sector has a powerful multiplier effect in the overall economy compared with manufacturing.

The map at the top of this post links to an interactive map from the BBC that allows you to see the growth of the internet over the ten years from 1998 – 2008. Access to broadband is seen as one of the key enablers in achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which are a set of targets intended to reduce global poverty and improve living standards by 2015, with concerns being expressed about the global disparity in broadband access and the need for this to be addressed on a global scale.

It’s all very well for New Zealand to celebrate that we’re ahead of Australia on OECD broadband rankings (click on the graph to the right for an enlarged version) – but we must keep up the momentum to maintain the advantage (for what it is) that we currently have, or we risk the loss of more and more businesses and vocational opportunities to overseas, meaning that the future opportunities for our children will inevitably lie off-shore as well.

Not only is the issue of economic viability important, access to broadband will play an essential role in the provision of all sorts of services – including education – and will also enable the children learning in schools in New Zealand to develop as global citizens by not only being aware of what is happening in the rest of the world via news feeds etc., but by actively participating in and contributing to projects that make a difference to what is happening in other parts of the planet (including their own!).

Broadband access is not simply the latest fad – it represents the underpinning infrastructure upon which our society and the future of our planet rests. It will determine how business is transacted and social interactions develop and are transformed – in much the same way as the telephone, roading system and electricity grids have done over the past century and a half.

As educators we need to understand this potential, we need to embrace it and we need to be working at finding ways of ensuring that our students are fully equipped with the skills, knowledge and dispositions to live as global citizens to take advantage of the opportunities that will exist in a broadband enabled world. This doesn’t mean simply getting excited about being able to download movies more quickly or getting faster responses when searching on the web :-).

All we need now is for the decisions to be made about the larger cities in NZ so we can get on and get connected! Imagine a generation of young learners, empowered by being broadband connected,  developing like young Birke Baehr below…

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