Schools across Southeast Asia have been forced to close during the pandemic lockdowns. In many cities, students have shifted to home-based learning with the aid of video conferencing technology. In Singapore, for example, new coronavirus clusters have emerged in schools recently, forcing these institutions to adopt a partial or full-closure and transition to online learning.
By now, many schools have adapted and are able to transition to remote or hybrid learning – where some students learn from home while others stay in school – at a moment’s notice, when there is a surge in cases or when the authorities announce city lockdown. The key, as school administrators are struggling with, is to transition seamlessly.
Furthermore, educators realise that the future of learning is now inextricably linked to digital tools and online environments, even beyond the pandemic. Today’s students are more technologically savvy than ever, and digital devices make more frequent appearances in their lives both within and outside the classroom.
Governments across the region are also pushing for greater transformation in the education sector, which means that our institutions must align themselves accordingly to achieve this vision. However, simply blindly conforming to digital transformation may do more harm than good if schools are not smart with how they integrate their technologies.
Why must schools adopt a smart network?
Let’s first discuss the most immediate challenge facing schools right now — having to transition to home-based learning, often with very little notice. This is where a resilient network infrastructure is paramount in ensuring continuity of learning.
An intelligent campus network can respond nimbly to sudden changes in circumstances where network usage is expected to increase, such as during the shift to online learning. A smart network can efficiently manage these types of traffic spikes without the need for IT teams to manually configure anything, reducing network overload.
Additionally, with the integration of automated features, an intelligent network can effectively analyse, predict, and eliminate network downtime to prevent disruptions in the learning experience, which can be crippling in a fully remote environment.
The enabling of seamless collaboration and communication in a digital learning environment is another benefit of the intelligent campus network. It helps to provide students with the same access and tools to education at home as are available on campus. Students and teachers can effortlessly communicate in real-time with one another online via a communications platform that is supported by a smart network. Video conferencing, instant file transfers, and screen sharing can be accomplished without breaking a sweat to further preserve the learning experience.
Buckling down for the long run
The education sector, as a whole, is becoming cognizant of the long-term value of digitalisation and technology adoption. Singapore, for instance, has introduced an EdTech Plan. A country-wide plan that spans 2020 to 2030 designed to guide the development of the technological ecosystem and key platforms for learning across learning institutions from primary schools to pre-universities. The plan seeks to empower schools to leverage educational technology to help make education more connected, personalised, self-directed, and human-centric.
However, as schools begin to revamp existing curriculums and accommodate the use of technology and tap into the potential of digital transformation, they must also be conscious of the security risks involved.
In a world that is becoming increasingly connected, increased connectivity can drastically widen the cyberattack surface and add to the threat vectors cybercriminals can exploit. This is especially true in remote learning, where students connect to the school network, often using their personal devices and home networks. According to a recent 2020 Global Threat Intelligence Report by NTT, 29% of cyberattacks in Singapore were targeted at the education sector throughout 2019, making it the second most targeted sector globally after the government.
As such, schools must first address how they can build a secure foundation on which to lay out their digital transformation initiatives. This is where an intelligent network can play a crucial role. With strengthened encryption and enhanced security measures, an intelligent network can provide a common security strategy for all network access, minimising the risks of malicious cyberattacks.
The fortified security of a smart network can help protect schools’ critical data assets and the privacy of its students and staff while preserving the reputation of academic institutions.
A smart network also contributes significantly to improving the robustness of existing network infrastructure and offering higher bandwidth and connectivity to meet the requirements of new-age technology such as AI and IoT. Such emerging technologies provide a multitude of benefits, ranging from optimising the learning process to allowing easier access to educational materials.
Furthermore, a fully integrated smart network allows school IT teams to adopt a truly unified approach that allows all technology and communications systems to work together as a single, reliable network — even as more technology is added to the mix.
Educational institutions that have implemented a smart network are starting to see such systems bear fruit. The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) pivoted to an intelligent campus network to create an intelligent campus with education solutions that empower personalised learning with secure, reliable communications and collaboration. SUTD is now able to reduce costs, eliminate downtime, and optimise network efficiency to obtain its key goals of providing quality, secure, and individualised education for its students.
At its core, an intelligent network is a crucial first step for educational institutions, serving as the bedrock that supports futureproof teaching and research initiatives. It lays the foundation for creating an ideal academic environment for students, teachers, and faculty members — inculcating a responsive system that enables learning anywhere, anytime.
By Dirk Dumortier, Head of Business Development Smart-City, Healthcare, Education, Asia Pacific, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise