The recent COVID-19 resurgence has forced governments to renew restrictions as the virus roared back with a vengeance. Schools across Southeast Asia have had to shift quickly to home-based learning with the aid of video conferencing technology.
In Singapore, for example, the recent surge in cases has prompted the country to announce a full transition to home-based learning again for primary schools.
By now, many schools have adapted, and being able to transition to a remote or hybrid learning environment at a moment’s notice has become a bare minimum. The key, that school administrators are struggling with, is to transition seamlessly.
Furthermore, educators are realising 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 are making more frequent appearances in their lives both within and outside of the classroom.
Across the region, governments are also pushing for greater transformation within the sector – which means that our educational institutions must align themselves accordingly to achieve this vision. However, simply blindly hopping on the digital transformation bandwagon may do more harm than good if schools are not smart with how they integrate their technologies.
Prioritising smart networks
Let’s first discuss the most immediate challenge facing schools right now — having to transition to home-based learning at a moment’s notice. This is where a resilient network infrastructure is paramount in ensuring continuity of learning.
An intelligent network — with the integration of automated features — can effectively analyse, predict, and eliminate network downtime to prevent disruptions in the learning experience that can be crippling in a fully remote environment.
Additionally, 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 manage these types of traffic spike efficiently without the need for IT teams to manually configure anything, reducing network overload.
The enablement of seamless collaboration and communication in a digital learning environment is another benefit of the intelligent campus network as it helps to provide students with the same access and tools to education at home – similar to what is 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 all be accomplished without breaking a sweat to further preserve the learning experience.
How we can prepare for the future
The education sector is becoming cognisant 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 to 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, this drastically widens the cyber attack surface and adds to the threat vectors cyber criminals can exploit. This is especially relevant in remote learning where students have to connect to the school network using their personal devices and home networks.
According to a recent 2020 Global Threat Intelligence Report by NTT, 29% of cyber attacks 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 risks of malicious cyber attacks.
The fortified security of a smart network can help to protect schools’ critical data assets and the privacy of its students and staff while preserving the reputation of academic institutions.
Embrace Industry 4.0
A smart network also contributes significantly to improving the robustness of existing network infrastructure, along with offering higher bandwidth and connectivity to meet the requirements of emerging technology such as AI and IoT. Such technologies offer a multitude of benefits, ranging from optimising the learning process to allowing easier access to education 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.
In fact, 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 empowers personalised learning with secure, reliable communications and collaboration. SUTD is now able to reduce costs, eliminate downtime, and optimise network efficiency to obtain their key goals of providing quality, secure, and individualised education for its students.
An intelligent network is the unsung hero working behind the scenes. Yet the benefits it provides are easily tangible — from reducing costs to eliminating network downtimes, to more seamless virtual classroom experiences for students and staff alike. It empowers schools’ digital transformation initiatives and futureproofs their learning environments, creating an ideal academic environment for students, teachers, and faculty members.
Dirk Dumortier is Head of Business Development Smart-City, Healthcare, Education, Asia Pacific, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise