September 19, 2021

School safety and connectivity

Case Study By

Dato Lee Yee Cheong

Malaysian Chairman, ISTIC

State of Broadband 2021

The ideas and opinions expressed in this insight are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of ITU and UNESCO or the Broadband Commission. The mention of specific companies, products or services does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by ITU or UNESCO or Broadband Commission in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.

UN Education Commission in its 2016 Report “The Learning Generation: Investing in education for a changing world” states: “In 2016, a quarter of a billion children and young people are out of school. Millions more are simply denied the teachers and classrooms they need.  Creating the Learning Generation requires closing the gap between today’s $1.2 trillion in annual education spending and the $3 trillion level needed in low- and middle-income countries by 2030.” Of particular relevance is the Report’s emphasis on digital learning. It emphasizes that a mind-set shift is needed throughout the global education system to see technology not as an “add-on” but as central to learning.

I do not believe that the world will be adopting more online virtual learning. Human beings are gregarious animals that have lived in communities since the dawn of civilization. Communal education in schools has been the norm. The communal education experience in school is amongst the happiest times in the lives of most humans and is very much valued. Advances and innovations in science and technology that underpin our civilization would continue to require STEM graduates who must hone their learning in physical experiments in physics, chemistry and biology laboratories in schools.

With broadband and related digital technologies and collective global political will, future epidemic outbreaks can be detected early and contained within the area of outbreak without it spreading to the rest of the world. Schools will remain open in future in most of the countries on earth as during SARS, MERS and Ebola etc. However, school buildings and the school ecosystem must be made safe for all stakeholders.

The current COVID-19 pandemic urgently requires all governments to make their existing and future school buildings safe against the current pandemic and future epidemics. They should also make their schools connected to Broadband and their teachers and students accessible to all digital learning content for employment and wealth creation of their youth.

I would urge Broadband Commission to come up with model designs of epidemic-safe schools for developing countries.