I've spent the past week in Chennai visiting my sister and brother in law. During our evenings together we've enjoyed long conversations about all manner of things, reminiscing experiences and memories from the past – often triggered by a comment or something we've heard on the news. Things like "remember that last episode of M*A*S*H? – why was Hawkeye being treated for a breakdown?" or "whatever happend to that young Afghani woman whose picture appeared on the cover of National Geographic?"
As the conversations continuted and the questions arose each of us in the group would use the devices available to begin searching for answers – generally coming up with them very quickly, and helping fuel further questions. i
The experience provides a graphic illustration of how important access to the internet has become in our daily lives – without it, these sorts of conversations, or more importantly, our ability to inform ourselves in a timely and appropriate manner, would not be possible.
The graphic at the top of this post comes from an article in Edudemic titled "how the world really connects to the internet". The opening paragraph in the article reads:
The internet: Not just for first world countries anymore. While high speed, broadband access may be much more ubiquitous in more developed countries, internet infrastructure and broadband connectivity is much more widespread than you may be aware of. Over the last decade, huge strides have been made, meaning many more students across the globe are being connected to the vast network of students, teachers, and the world.
So it's interesting to me to reflect on what's happening back in New Zealand in the lead up to the election, where it seems that the issue of access and connectivity has become the 'hot potato' – particularly in education. Not surprising, as it's been brewing for some time.
Back in 2012 Nikki Kaye championed a cross-party inquiry into 21st Century Learning and Digital Literacy. With all political parties participating in the process and having full access to all of the submissions etc., there was a plethora of information to inform future political agendas, and all of which provided a strong case for improving the level and quality of access to the internet (and the devices for doing so) for all learners.
Since the release of the report of the select committee being released early in 2013 we've seen the release of a report from the 21st Century Learning Reference Group (of which I am a part) which suggests ten priorities for equipping learners with 21st century skills and digital competencies. One of the recommendations reads:
Achieve equitable access to digital devices for every learner: Ensure all learners have access to suitable digital technologies, regardless of location, background, abilities or socio-economic status.
Seems like this has now become a key focus of all of the political parties – unfortunately not in the coordinated or cross-party way that we might have hoped for durng the select committee process, but that's politics I guess.
While we wait to see what may happen with the recommendations from the 21st Century Learning Reference group, the National Party have announced a new ICT advisory service for schools.
The Labour Party have identified providing kids with devices as one of their 'hot buttoned school issues', where they propose the provision of subsidised netbook/ laptop for all students to the tune of $120 million.
The Internet Party (not surprisingly as it's their primary focus) has a whole section in their policy on modern schools in which they propose triple the amount of annual ICT funding to state and state-integrated schools.(section 5.2).
So the ball has started rolling, and it looks like support for ICT in education, with an emphasis on connectivity and access, will be one of the things to watch.
All I can say is that I hope, amid all of the political manoeuvering and points scoring, we don't lose sight of the fact that whatever the strategy might be that we don't end up simply changing things for the sake of changing them – or to simply do something different from what the other parties suggest because it's another party.
At the end of the day, what I'm interested in is that all learners in our education system can have the opportunity to do what I was doing with my family, where I was able to use the device(s) available to me to access the information I required as and when required (ubiquity!) to help reinforce and inform my learning.
As the politics of pre-electioneering begins to take effect, let's hope it doesn't cloud (too much) the bigger dream we have for equitable and ubiquitous access – to devices and to the inernet – for all.