Conference sneak preview / Field Stories

How Schools-Focused Tech Can Fix Africa’s Connectivity Problem

After attending e-Learning Africa 2017, ApplianSys Director of Technology Roger Clark set out to document how modern network technology can transform African connectivity and accelerate e-Learning rollout. Following an extensive study of network traffic patterns in connected classrooms in 12 countries, Roger is joining the 2018 conference to share insights from that research, but here’s a foretaste.

 

African nations are on a journey to transform education outcomes with the help of connected classrooms, but the inclusive e-learning ambitions of African policy makers are being stifled by the connectivity problem.

As nations travel the e-learning journey – developing digital content and student/lesson management tools, training teachers and distributing teacher/student devices along the way – internet demand in the classroom will continually outstrip available capacity. And that problem is rooted in relying entirely on bandwidth for connectivity: doing so, nations will always have insufficient connectivity, and they will spend far more than necessary at each stage.

The problem is worse in remote/rural schools. Bandwidth here will always be limited and expensive, so equal access risks becoming a political problem. And without sufficient connectivity, the e-learning journey will be slowed down, or even thrown off course.

But with the help of modern schools-focused caching technology it’s possible to ‘fix the problem’, ensuring sufficient web access at each stage of the journey and massively reducing the amount that a nation needs to spend on schools’ connectivity.

Caching is a proven solution for sustaining connectivity throughout the journey, all of which underpins national outcomes such as developing the digital skills needed to compete globally.

How Will Caching Help African Nation’s Connectivity?

Schools worldwide face similar problems throughout the journey from unconnected schools to full e-learning.

When a classroom full of students attempts to access lesson material online (often at the start of each lesson), demand rockets, creating a queue of traffic that slows internet access for everyone, impacting lesson plans and leaving student and teacher frustrated or worse, disengaged.

As schools’ progress towards independent learning, every student will have access to a laptop or tablet. Those devices repeatedly trigger enormous demand for software updates that can consume all available bandwidth. The result? Congestion that lasts all day, intensifying the problems of slow, unusable internet access in the classroom.

But these traits also make caching extremely effective: the majority of a schools’ traffic is repeat requests for identical content. A cache stores content the first time it is downloaded and delivers subsequent requests locally, without using the internet connection at all.

African schools have the opportunity to pursue the benefits of e-learning whilst avoiding the unsustainable dependence on high-speed infrastructure that burdens Edutech budgets elsewhere.

In the United States, schools can access large internet connections at relatively low cost. Yet demand still outgrows connectivity year-on-year with schools needing 30% more bandwidth each year1. So, since 2014, the US government has funded caching appliances in schools.

Supporting Growing Needs

Roger’s research highlights how, once connected, African schools’ needs will evolve, demanding ever more internet capacity as several capability pillars develop in parallel.

But caching can underpin them all. By fixing the connectivity problem, nations can focus on pedagogical challenges, IT capacity building and content development, safe in the knowledge that schools from urban centres to remote villages will have the connectivity they need to benefit from these strategically essential national investments.

Be sure to catch Roger’s story in full at the conference, during his session on Thursday, 27 September.

1 https://stateofthestates.educationsuperhighway.org/

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