As I sat through a DSL install at one of our schools this morning, I Tweeted my excitement at finally leaving a fractional T1 behind at this particularly remote school. The bandwidth, usually running around 200kbps, has seriously hampered our efforts to roll out e-learning tools, so a 6MBps pipe (2 aggregated 3MBps DSL lines) is a huge upgrade.
"6MBps?" you say...that's nothing! And you're right. It's painfully slow by modern standards and yet is hardly the worst had by many schools in the States. Obviously, urban schools are going to see much greater bandwidth and fiber penetration; even the other schools in our district (aside from the one, lone school noted above) can get 15MBps cable. Our little town is not that extraordinary among other rural communities, though.
6MBps is fine for the small school of about 150 students and will allow us to fully implement Google Apps, web-based RTI software, and provide students with a much snappier online experience. However, as one of my Twitter friends put it this morning, dampening my excitement over my new DSL lines,
Damn we had faster than that back in 99 @ my high school and by the time i left in 03 we had fibre, you guys get screwed badly!
I didn't add punctuation; he can only express his surprise so well in 140 characters, but you get the idea. It certainly won't support widespread video over the web or more really bandwidth-intensive collaboration efforts. He's in Australia, by the way, where they are no stranger to vast stretches of rural land. Regardless of where he lives in Australia, though, be it Sydney or the outback, it's readily apparent that the country is and has been ahead of us in broadband adoption and penetration in too many places.
I'd hate to say anything against Australia. Aside from an abundance of cane toads, sharks, and other poisonous, deadly, and unpleasant creatures, it seems like a very nice place. However, it also seems like, with the billions of dollars we've dumped in various "stimulus" packages and "loans" to big corporations, some money could have gone to initiatives like those my Australian Twitter buddy was more than happy to send along.
In one case, 400 IT jobs were created to provide full-time tech support in Australian high schools. These jobs accompanied distribution of 200,000 netbooks to high schoolers; the broadband was already largely in place and the students will be allowed to keep the computers if they graduate.
In another initiative, IBM was awarded a $70 million (Australian) contract to install enterprise-class wireless at 463 schools, creating local contract jobs wherever possible for the duration of the project.
These projects, among others, are part of Australia's Digital Education Revolution. The title might be cheesy, but the government is pumping money directly into school technology and the curriculum to use it.
To me, this seems like it will have far more direct benefit than No Child Left Behind. Australian readers, am I only seeing one side here, or is this further evidence that the US continues to lag behind other countries in educational technology and e-learning opportunities?