Remote learning: Coverage is the necessary condition


Posted by Rohan Samarajiva on September 7, 2020  /  0 Comments

The New York Times ran a poignant story about the travails of children unable to go to school in Indonesia.

Today, about 13 million people across 12,500 remote villages have no access to the internet, said Setyanto Hantoro, president director of Telkomsel, the country’s largest telecommunications company, which is cooperating with the government to provide service in far-flung areas.

Among the areas where Telkomsel is working to bring access are Kenalan, where the three girls study by the road, and the village of Bah Pasungsang, where as many as 20 students a day climb trees to study. But those efforts will not be completed until 2022, Mr. Setyanto said.

LIRNEasia’s education researchers have been working on all aspects of this problem and are very clear that coverage is just one aspect. But it is a necessary condition. Without coverage, remote learning cannot happen, however committed the teachers are and however good the content is.

We sought to shed light on what is going on based on our After Access data from 2018-19. Obviously the use of Internet in households with children has to be higher now, especially as a result of the inducements provided by COVID-19.

The ITU’s latest report on data prices came out in the middle of the pandemic lockdowns. I published a column entitled “What can be done about Sri Lanka’s low Internet use despite low prices?”, which said among other things:

3G and 4G connectivity is still not available across the country. This must be promptly addressed, by releasing needed frequencies and by providing investment certainty. Quality issues must be addressed. For this international and domestic backhaul issues must be addressed, including non-discriminatory access to CEB infrastructure.

In response, I heard from a thoughtful professional heading one of Sri Lanka’s mobile operators:

I however personally do not believe that 3G/4G coverage is the issue today. Three major operators have are now operating 4G networks nationwide. [My company] has instantly reached 90% of the population.

There however could be an issue with radio capacity which leads to congestion and slower speeds to consumers.

I believe the lack of local language content may be one of the major reasons for the poor penetration beyond the English educated urban classes.

The relative affordability of low cost 3G/4G handsets could also be a barrier.

What do the readers of this blog think? Is network coverage no longer a barrier in Sri Lanka?

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