The promise of UFB

There’s a great deal of talk around the country now that the government has finally announced the providers for the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband (UFB) in New Zealand.  In the wake of this announcement there have been all sorts of speculation about what this will mean, from those who believe it is a waste of tax payers money at one end, to those who make bolder claims about revolutionising education and enhancing learning outcomes at the other.

Now while I believe strongly that we could do with a revolution in our education system, and that in 20 years I hope we can look back and see that the roll out of UFB played a significant role in that, I am unconvinced that laying a bit of fibre in the ground will achieve that on its own.

We need to get things in perspective. A week ago I was in Sydney for the official launch of the first mainland connection to the Australian National Broadband Network (NBN) at which Prime Minister, Julia Gillard announced, “This is a transformative infrastructure for our nation’s future!” – a sentiment similar to those expressed  by our own Steven Joyce at a conference I attended late last year.

When people ask me what will UFB deliver, I have a pragmatic response. I say that it will provide us with connectivity that provides for greater:

  • speed
  • capacity
  • reliability

Now, if we have those things, we can really begin to ‘cook with gas’ on the many things we’re currently trying to do on the (very limited) commodity internet connections that we have in our schools. Things like video conferencing, accessing multi-media resources, having multiple classes at a time accessing sites like Google Earth, utlising off-site storage and backup etc.

It’s important to understand that the UFB itself is simply a part of the picture – an important and expensive part at that – but it only lays a foundation upon which a range of other things are required. I’ve put together the diagram at the top of this post in an effort to show this relationship very simply (click on it for a larger image). I’m hopeful that it might be useful to others as we engage in the process of explaining what sort of benefit we hope to achieve from getting ourselves connected to fibre – and there are a great many advantages in my view!

However, as to making a direct, causal link between being connected to fibre and improved outcomes for learners, particularly those currently under-served in our system, I simply can’t buy it. Sure – the fibre will assist, but it will only assist where we have educators who are taking risks, exploring new pedagogical approaches, letting go of their traditional roles and engaging meaningfully with the sorts of imperatives outlined in the NZ Curriculum Framework.

5 thoughts on “The promise of UFB

  1. Not only a great visual, but a great read! Thank you for voicing this for all to read. I am definitely pleased schools will have access to UFB, but as you have said, this is only part of the picture!! Without PD for teachers, principals, and BOT’s, little of use will be done with it!!! We need to grab hold of both UFB and the new NZC and mix it up. They both provide us with exciting opportunities, but it is what we make of them that will matter.

  2. Totally agree with your comments Derek, I despair when I observe all the hype surrounding the advent of UFB both in NZ and here in Australia. Unfortunately it seems to be the politicians who are proudly and loudly claiming to be delivering something just short of salvation to education. I hope this doesn’t mean they consider their commitment to education is complete.

  3. Couldn’t agree more, Derek. Have posted a link to this blog post on the e-Learning Research Network where a similar post appears: ‘It’s the people, not the pipes’ [].

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