IGF 2021 WS #264
Dark Classrooms: internet shutdowns & the right to education

Organizer 1: Peter Micek, Access Now
Organizer 2: Mark West, UNESCO
Organizer 3: Rafael Bezerra Nunes, Access Now

Speaker 1: Mark West, Intergovernmental Organization, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Laura O'Brien, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Berhan Taye, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 4: Muhannad Hameed, Civil Society, African Group


Mark West, Intergovernmental Organization, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Peter Micek, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Rafael Bezerra Nunes, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)


Round Table - Circle - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

Cybersecurity practices and mechanisms: What are the good cybersecurity practices and international mechanisms that already exist? Where do those mechanisms fall short and what can be done to strengthen the security and to reinforce the trust?
Additional Policy Questions Information: As digital transformation takes hold, and more arms of government consider cybersecurity, how can national and local authorities ensure stability and consistency in policy and practice?

In several countries, education authorities looking to ensure the legitimacy and integrity of examinations consistently shut down the internet at local or national levels during school exams. Though acting with the intention of curtailing cheating, their practices conflict with efforts to reinforce trust in the availability and stability of networks, applications, and services. These disruptions represent a forceful measure, imposed by one arm of government, with broad, detrimental impacts on economic development and a range of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of entire populations. Best practices in cybersecurity policy and practice include human-centric approaches that affirm norms such as protection of the general availability or integrity of the public core of the Internet, an essential driver of the stability of cyberspace.

Now, the pandemic has forced abrupt digital transformation of the education system. Educators and students depend on digital platforms and services of varying stability and security, with inadequate accommodations for students with learning differences and disabilities, poor internet connectivity, and other circumstances impeding learning. More attention to the cybersecurity practices and internet policymaking of education authorities is needed to better balance the needs of diverse stakeholders, and build stability into connectivity, by design.


4. Quality Education

Targets: SDG 16.10 ensures the public's access to information and fundamental freedoms for all. Disrupting internet access directly interferes with the availability of information and the freedom to pursue one's right to education.

SDGs 4 and 4.5: During the pandemic, educators and students depend on digital platforms and services of varying stability and security, with inadequate accommodations for students with learning differences and disabilities, poor internet connectivity, and other circumstances impeding learning. Further disrupting internet access through exam-related internet shutdowns will adversely impact those students who require accommodation. It also teaches all students that the internet is not dependable, but can be withdrawn unilaterally.

SDG target 9.c ensures connectivity for all, including those in least developed countries. Disrupting access intentionally thwarts this goal


Education and participation in science and culture increasingly depends on the internet, and many people around the world need network access to gain and share knowledge. While this has opened -- quite literally -- a world of opportunities for many students, it also leaves others vulnerable to that new gateway to information being taken away from them, sometimes in the name of cybersecurity or the integrity of exams and testing. For years, some education ministries have imposed local, regional, or nationwide blackouts on connectivity during final exams in an effort to curb cheating. Meanwhile, other government ministries use the same disruptive tactic in different scenarios, such as the run up to elections to prevent campaigning or disinformation. These policies persist despite growing understanding of the broad range of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights infringed upon when the internet shuts down.

This session will explore the implications of school-exam related internet shutdowns and similar restrictions on the right to education. UNESCO intends to present early findings from research into the phenomenon, and will join diverse stakeholders in discussing how examinations can be administered in the digital and internet era. Speakers from Wikimedia and Access Now will also highlight some of the work by various communities to strengthen access to secure, open, stable and meaningful connectivity for learning and provide updates about emerging normative understandings in this area, including about a Global Declaration on Connectivity for Education.

Expected Outcomes

The experts in this session will discuss how school-related network disruptions affect students and their communities, and the strategies that can be deployed to offset or prevent the cost and harm associated with them.
Participants will gain a deeper understanding of the implications of school exam-related internet shutdowns on internet security and stability, as well as more information about the persistence of digital divides as exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic on educational systems. The discussion will inform a UNESCO study into the phenomenon.

Participants will also see the progress of exciting sustainable, community-level projects that create, store, and share information from the hyperlocal level and offer possibilities for replication in other regions of the world during the pandemic, in disaster relief and shutdown contexts, and beyond. We will show links between connectivity, law, and policy, and look for a way to marry the needs of students, educators, and knowledge societies as we strive toward the 2030 Agenda. Finally, the global #KeepItOn Coalition, made up of 243 civil society groups monitoring internet shutdowns, will integrate the roundtable's findings into advocacy plans and outreach strategies to education ministries.

In the event that we are fortunate to have some participants attend in person, we will practice before the session to test the methods of participation and ensure adequate audio and video support. In the session, we will repeat any oral questions posed by those in the room, and use chat functionalities to write any pertinent questions or comments for the benefit of those who may be audio-impaired. I have been teaching a hybrid class and learned ways to integrate online speakers and audience, and will actively moderate to invite all parties to participate.

If no participant is in person, we will ensure a lively discussion through polling, graphics, and active moderation on Zoom, while working closely with IGF staff and volunteers in Poland to connect robustly with those attending in person. This will go beyond simple Q&A to include quick polling and shows of hands.

Online Participation

Usage of IGF Official Tool. Additional Tools proposed: We will use Zoom, and avail ourselves of all the accessibility and accommodation features, including polling and transcription. We will encourage participants to speak in a slow, clear way, amenable to live transcription and captioning.