Over three billion people currently have no access to the internet — but soon will. In my 2019 book, The Great Connecting, I explore the profound opportunities and the daunting challenges that the rapid extension of the internet will introduce.
So how as a society do we best enhance the opportunities and mitigate the challenges? In the book I outline a long list of policy recommendations that governments, companies, non-profits and individuals can take. The more I was asked about this, however, on the book tour and in interviews, the more I decided there is one step that should take precedence:
If an early adopter in a community is a school, that is a great way to introduce the power and promise (and peril) of the internet.
- Schools can immediately benefit from curricular materials for teachers, and learning materials for students
- Schools can train students (and the community) to effectively use online tools
- Schools can teach the challenges of the internet
- Schools can often provide devices (phones or tablets) for loan
- Kids learn technology skills quickly
- Schools tend to not be politically sensitive
- Schools are respected institutions in the community
If the internet, as it arrives to a community, is perceived as helping students, that is useful. In contrast, if it is perceived as only bringing, say, gambling and pornography, that is a problem.
The extension of the internet to the half the world’s population currently offline is a world-changing event. And it will be much more effective if we intelligently and aggressively target schools.