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‘Treacherously slow’ broadband speeds threaten Australian students’ online learning experience

A new study conducted by digital platform company Preply examined internet access and infrastructure in 30 OECD countries, finding Australian students experience one of the slowest broadband speeds of 45.9 Mbit/s.

Given the reliance on remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and the proliferation of online study globally, the study’s aim was to ascertain which countries were best prepared for this shift to online learning. Other areas analysed in the study to evaluate Australia’s preparedness included computer access, the number of online course offerings and the costs of offering online tutoring.

While Australia was ranked 10th overall in infrastructure for e-learning, based upon three specific factors (access, speed and tutoring cost), the study highlighted other pertinent factors to the future of online learning in schools. 

For instance, the report found that Australia’s average internet speed is a 45.9 Mbit/s, which was labelled "treacherously slow" and is more than half as slow as New Zealand at 114.8 Mbit/s. The study also found that Australia’s internet-broadband speed is also half that of Canada and the US.

Another lowpoint for Australia identified in the study is its ranking for government expenditure on education per capita, which currently stands at 17.8 per cent of GDP. Only Greece and Ireland spend less on education per capita than Australia.

Australian students also trail behind their UK counterparts in terms of computer access at home, with 82.4 per cent of students in Australia having access compared to 91.7 per cent in the UK. 

One of the factors that was not included in the overall rankings was the number of online course offerings. In this area, Australia is performing well, with 3094 online education courses. Only the US and the UK offer more online courses globally. Conversely, New Zealand can boast just 129. 

Overall, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland were the top three countries in terms of infrastructure for e-learning. A surprising finding was that the “technologically advanced” country of Japan ranked 26th out of the 30 countries included. While the country offers a rich market for e-learning offerings, sluggish internet and inadequate digital educational opportunities are "holding back the potential for e-learning”. 

The study also found “Mexico offers the worst conditions for e-learning offerings. Only 44.3 per cent of Mexicans have private computer access, and slow internet makes real-time collaboration impossible.”

On a more positive note, Canada “offers the best value for money when it comes to internet access” and its government spends a significant 31 per cent of GDP per capita on education.

"We are convinced that e-learning has a great potential to improve educational opportunities worldwide," said Kirill Bigai, CEO of Preply. 

"The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that access to digital education is unequally distributed, but that there are ample opportunities to begin investing in the digital infrastructure necessary for a national shift to online learning. 

“This study aims to uncover the extent to which all learners have access to adequate digital tools and resources.”

 A complete overview of all data, methodology and sources can be found at https://preply.com/en/d/e-learning-index/

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