Technology in Education – The Importance of Connectivity

With the redesign of ICT services at the forefront of many local authorities there’s increasing pressure to revolutionise digital technology across the board, none more so that in Education.

Education Secretary, Damien Hinds has challenged the tech industry to launch an education revolution for schools, colleges and universities. In one of his first speeches to the sector at the World Education forum he talked about the schools which had already implemented state-of-the-art technology and how they are bringing education to life with virtual trips and control bots whist dramatically reducing time spent by teachers on burdensome administrative tasks. 

However, it is only a small proportion of schools in a position to offer such learning experiences until the right infrastructure is in place to support and utilise this technology.

Technology plays such an important role in today’s society, it can be seen from the way we bank to how we pay for school meals. We live in a Digital Age where our children know no different, Ofcom reported that 44% of 5-15 year olds have their own smartphone and 47% have their own tablet. As such this technology is expected as the norm, yet education establishments can be slow on the uptake.

There can be many reasons why teachers and education establishments are reluctant such as lack of skills, fear of change or concerns about data security. But often, its due to their communications infrastructure not being fit for purpose: 

  • Legacy infrastructures in place which are no longer cost efficient with end of life equipment holding back upgrades and digitisation
  • Low quality broadband connection that’s not fast enough or stable enough to cope with the demand placed on it
  • Lack of understanding on the best way to migrate or upgrade due to size and complexity

With concerns such as those listed above it is no wonder local councils and schools proceed with caution.  But, having the right infrastructure in place would outweigh the perceived cons time and time again.

Having a well thought out digital strategy with an ICT infrastructure which supports this short-term and long-term can have a positive impact on lessons for staff and children, and the wider society.

The benefits for schools are endless: 

  • Cost efficiencies from reducing the need of technical repairs or replacing old parts
  • Time efficiencies – teachers will be able to communicate and collaborate easier
  • Raising attainment and encourage inclusion
  • Enhanced teaching and learning with access to digital technology

John Swinney, Deputy First Minister & Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills has said “The skilful deployment of digital technology in our schools and early learning settings will also ensure our learners develop a level of general and specialist digital skills that are so vital for learning, life and work in an increasingly digitised world.”

In 2016 The Scottish Borders Council launched their digital transformation strategy to drastically improve their ICT services across the council. Since then, not only have they opened new schools but they have transformed their outdated network infrastructure and all secondary schools are now hi-tech hubs of learning with gigabit speed connections. This rural area is now on par with its urban neighbours Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The Scottish Borders Council and Glasgow City Council both announced last month the roll-out of free iPads to school children to help with lessons, embrace the digital age and help close the attainment gap.

Connectivity underpins all of this. Without a fast, secure and reliable connection this would not be a reality.  But it doesn’t quite end there.

Bandwidth vs Speed

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you have increased the speed of your network that all your problems have been solved.

The faster the internet connection the faster the transfer of data, right? Yes, if it’s only carrying out basic tasks such as browsing the web or sending an email with a small attachment.

That’s all very well until you take into the equation the numbers within a school. The average primary school has 281 pupils and a high school has on average 948 pupils, a number that is on the rise. With numbers increasing, so does the demand on the network.

Therefore your internet connection also needs the capacity to be able to cope with the demand – that’s where bandwidth comes in.

Bandwidth is about how much data you can send, not the speed at which it is sent, but the two work in tandem. 

In 2015 Edinburgh City Council set about improving their ICT services with bandwidth being a key priority, most council buildings now have bandwidth 100 times greater than it was before.  A good example of this is the newly opened Portobello High School in 2016 which was one of the first to be able to connect to the Council’s new, ultra-fast fibre optic network enabling applications like lunch payments being made via fingerprint and work can now be completed online using cloud-based systems such as Microsoft Office 365 – which can be accessed anywhere.

It is essential that your ICT infrastructure is a key consideration when planning your digital technology strategy, this will help deliver the necessary improvements for a digital future.