Some schools are using broadband better than others
Fast net access could transform education in the UK but only if the government helps, say broadband experts.
In a report, the government's key broadband advisory group, the Broadband Stakeholder Group said education was key to driving the take-up of fast net services.
On a visit to Korea, the group found that education has been crucial to the country's phenomenal uptake of broadband.
The government must take a lead on broadband in UK schools if it is to persuade teachers that this technology can make a difference to their pupils, said the report.
"Teachers are incredibly overburdened and the last thing they need is to be thrown a whole lot more technology and told to get on with it," said Antony Walker, the group's chief executive.
The government also needed to address inconsistencies in how broadband was being implemented in the nation's primary and secondary schools, said Mr Walker.
"It is a mixed picture across the UK. In some places really innovative and interesting things are being done but in others there is a low level of understanding," he said.
The government needed to clearly communicate its vision for the use of broadband within education, said the study.
A central online resource, offering teachers guidance on how to get the best out of broadband, needs to be set up.
Guidelines on how schools could get the funding for broadband also needed to be clearer, said the broadband advisers.
Broadband needs to be ubiquitous within the educational service. We want to create a virtuous circle where increased use of broadband at school drives use at home and vice versa
Antony Walker, Broadband Stakeholder Group
Currently the government is attempting to set up a nationwide aggregation scheme that would draw together all public sector broadband needs, from libraries, doctor's surgeries and schools, in specific areas and get the cheapest price for the technology.
It is committed to broadband-enabling all schools by 2006 and so far around 40% of schools have a fast net connection.
The report highlights some of the success stories, which includes Ashcombe Comprehensive School in Surrey which has used video-conferencing to improve grades in foreign languages.
Across Cambridgeshire, teachers use broadband to provide them with online information, streamlining school administration and cutting down on bureaucracy.
"Desk-based office workers take it for granted that they get all their information from their PCs but schools are still very much paper-based," said Mr Walker.
The Virtual Transition Project, part of the Birmingham Grid for Learning project, offers a website connecting primary school children to mentors in secondary schools to streamline and make less stressful the move from primary to secondary education.
Broadband for boys
At a more mundane level, the simple fact of a faster internet connection in the classroom has been proved to make a difference to pupils.
"Children are more engaged when they are using broadband, especially boys," said Mr Walker.
"It keeps their attention because they are not getting bored waiting for pages to download," he added.
In Korea, broadband and education work hand in hand with teachers putting homework assignments online and expecting students to do the same.
While there are issues to be ironed out in the UK, such as how to make sure low-income families do not lose out in access to technology, Mr Walker is convinced that such all-pervasiveness is necessary in the UK.
"Broadband needs to be ubiquitous within the educational service. We want to create a virtuous circle where increased use of broadband at school drives use at home and vice versa," he said.