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The UK government is claiming that hundreds of thousands of primary school pupils living in the country’s rural areas will be able to enjoy lessons powered by gigabit broadband connections as it invests to level-up internet access through a joint £82m investment from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Education (DfE).
The ambition for the scheme is that over the next three years, an estimated 500,000 primary school pupils in up to 3,000 eligible schools will be able to embrace efficiencies through modern ways of working, generating cost savings and reducing workload for frontline professionals.
The programme will cover the costs of connecting rural schools not likely to be connected by the commercial roll-out currently stuck on outdated copper cables. An additional 1,000 schools will be funded by DfE as part of its mission to enable every school in England to access high-speed internet by 2025.
Funding for up to 2,000 schools will come from the DCMS GigaHubs programme, which is part of Project Gigabit, the government’s £5bn initiative to deliver reliable ultra-high speed broadband in hard-to-reach areas of the UK.
Launched in March 2021, Project Gigabit represented a relaunch of the UK government’s national gigabit broadband programme, which aims to deliver next-generation gigabit broadband to more than a million homes and businesses in what are regarded as hard-to-reach places, and the projects it funds will prioritise areas that currently have slow connections and would otherwise have been left behind in broadband companies’ roll-out plans.
In addition to bringing gigabit-capable connections to the heart of communities, the new infrastructure will be the base of incentivising more investment in hard-to-reach areas and providing “hubs” from which the commercial sector can connect surrounding homes and businesses.
To ensure teachers and schools can make the most of these connections in the classroom, the DfE is also investing £30m in the pilot project Connect the Classroom, which aims to upgrade technology in thousands more schools in priority areas, meaning pupils will benefit from fast Wi-Fi and cloud services and will be able to link up with peers, experts and specialists in countries from around the world via live video calling. The UK government is investing in Connect the Classroom in its Priority Education Investment Areas, 24 areas of the country where education outcomes are weakest, and support is being targeted.
The government also noted that the delivery of new gigabit connectivity also underpins its net-zero ambitions – helping schools to move away from inefficient locally hosted servers and embrace more efficient and secure cloud data storage, services and devices.
Commenting on the upgrade of the educational network, Russell David, head of the Acorns and Whitley Village Federated School in Ellesmere Port, which has already been connected to gigabit broadband through Project Gigabit, said: “Our pupils now feel more connected to each other, their teachers and our community than ever before.
“Fast, reliable connectivity is vital in today’s classrooms and gigabit broadband, along with the fantastic new Wi-Fi provided through the Connect the Classroom programme, has allowed us to transform how we teach using the latest educational tech, giving pupils and staff access to a huge library of new tools and resources to thrive and engage with the curriculum. Our remote location is no longer a constraint.”