Over the horizon

What’s in store for the education sector over the next 12 months, and how can we best prepare for future obstacles?


Justin Beck, VP Education, Kaltura
Brian Fischer, Assistant Head Teacher for Tibshelf Community School
Simon Harbridge, CEO, Stone Group
David Tindall, Managing Director, Talk Straight, Schools Broadband

Pupils in more than half of all UK state schools have poor access to ICT according to research by BESA. Will the digital divide widen in 2015, and what can we do to prevent this?

Justin Beck: This is ultimately related to a lack of public funding, especially as you go down in age and into poorer regions of the country. Will the digital divide continue? Absolutely – unless access and funding is provisioned for those schools lacking. State schools in largely middle class areas will probably find it easier to source the latest gear and resources to empower their learners, by appealing directly to parents for support. The rest will struggle unless the government, interested companies and charitable organisations provide scalable programmes and fill in the gaps for ICT equipment purchasing.  

A likely solution is for less resource-rich areas to adopt a BYOD strategy as the access to smart devices, across all income ranges, is nearing ubiquity. This would enable state schools to focus on the content and delivery of resources. Thus by removing the bulk of hardware purchasing needs, administrators can provide low-cost and flexible software-as-a-service solutions to deliver new/expanded curriculum and learning opportunities for pupils.

Brian Fischer: At present, all schools are facing significant cuts to their budgets, and, as a result, are having to make some impossible decisions. For example, in the ideal world, we would have a refresh budget ring-fenced for the ICT provision within the school to ensure that we could at least ‘stay still’, never mind move forward with new ideas and innovations. However, how can we do this whilst making staff redundant in order to balance the books? If it comes down to a choice between upgrading the ICT or putting staff in front of students, there is really no option, so the simple answer is, that in the short term, the digital divide will inevitably widen until someone can come up with a better funding strategy.

Simon Harbridge: In response to Brian, budgets are of course a concern, but we think there are things that can be done to improve access to ICT for pupils, even under the tightest financial constraints. BESA recently declared that a high percentage of devices in schools are not fit for purpose. We still see a lot of potential in such legacy devices. Hardware can be refurbished with the specific purpose of improving digital access. Devices can also be recycled, and recycled machines can be purchased for one third of the cost of new ones. There’s also re-distribution – secondary school machines can be deployed in primary schools, where lower usage and processing power are required.

There’s also no reason to see investment as an enormous initial outlay, when payment solutions focused on shifting expenditure to a revenue model rather than capital are increasingly being adopted by schools. With BYOD, CYOD and One-on-One device schemes, part-funding by parents, teachers and admin staff is also increasing. Similarly, in procuring infrastructure and software as a service rather than as a capital investment, all schools regardless of financial circumstance can allow their pupils access to the latest technology. 

David Tindall: Keeping pace with current and future levels of provisioning within schools is essential. Pupils can’t learn unless they have a decent internet connection. Improved access to ICT for schools is an issue that lies at the very heart of Schools Broadband. Whilst we can’t influence funding, new technologies mean we can directly influence improved broadband speeds, essential to prevent the digital divide.

Ethernet over Fibre to the Cabinet (EoFTTC) is one technology Schools Broadband now uses as standard. This allows us to guarantee speeds of up to 20Mbps, making a huge difference to all of our schools who have previously struggled with internet speeds because of their physical location.

I’m confident as technology progresses, so the digital divide will lessen. But as demand on these
sorts of resources grows, it’s more important now than ever before for schools to ensure they speak to education specialist ISPs, who can make sure they have a communication network that can cope with the needs of today, with built-in flexibility for the demands of tomorrow.

2014 saw the introduction of a new computing curriculum in UK schools. How will we see this evolve in 2015?

Justin Beck: The new computing curriculum is incredibly important as it will expose all students to not only computer science (the how) but strengthen their ability to apply logic and computational reasoning to problem solving. In 2015 I will expect to see an increased focus on the use of coding skills to be an educational avenue in supporting this curriculum. Learning basic coding challenges students in a couple of ways. First it teaches a baseline skill which, while not required in all work settings, supports an understanding of how programs, software and hardware interact. Second, it will help pupils with complex problem solving and analysis, thus sharpening their skills further. 

Simon Harbridge: Evolution will continue, at a myriad of different rates. I think many schools weren’t completely prepared for the new curriculum, but some were raring to go. We find, especially when we attend shows like BETT, that a collaborative approach to improvement works really well. When CPD experiences are shared and people talk about what’s working for them, change happens faster. We believe that schools should take this approach and keep the curriculum evolving. 

Teachers believe online risks such as cyber bullying are on the rise, what steps can we take to further tackle e-safety in the classroom in 2015?

Justin Beck: A core component of the new computing curriculum is for pupils to understand how networks offer new opportunities for collaboration and how to be discerning in interpreting digital content. It’s the responsibility of teachers, administrators and parents to use these learning opportunities to address cyber bullying and other inappropriate online activities through these digital literacy efforts. When sharing best practice on online behaviour etiquette, we must directly call forth the risks to young students of sharing information online, communications expectations and how to treat one another. While there are improving monitoring technologies for administrators and parents, the best defense is offence – by raising awareness among students and, just as importantly, giving students a safe channel to a trusted adult – teachers, administrators etc – if they are being victimised. 

Brian Fischer: Greater access to e-learning can be seen as a benefit or a curse. The opportunities to support students’ learning are vast, particularly if the school supports the student’s own devices, enabling anytime, anywhere learning to take place. However, the opportunity for cyber bullying obviously increases at the same time. The only way to minimise this, is to ensure that students, staff and parents are all aware of the implications. Students in particular need to believe that this form of bullying will be
taken just as seriously as any other form, and that the school will take any allegations seriously, with sanctions as appropriate. 

Simon Harbridge: Online bullying is a societal problem, it’s not confined to schoolchildren, and everybody should take awareness and responsibility very seriously. Tackling e-safety begins at home, with gentle boundaries and careful instruction. It’s a school’s responsibility to keep its pupils as safe as possible from all forms of online risks, but that can only happen effectively when it’s backed up by all those involved in a pupil’s life both in and outside school.

From a technology perspective, schools should already be implementing simple measures such as the CEOP ‘report abuse’ button on their website and Virtual Learning Environment. Ofsted says that monitoring across a school’s network facilitates a whole school approach to e-safety. Schools that will be tackling this problem effectively in 2015 will be investing in the right monitoring software, designed to detect key words related to topics concerning potential risks. Faculty staff are provided with definitions of the terms picked up so they can deal with violations. Awareness is key – schools should be as open and sympathetic as possible, and so should their technology suppliers.

David Tindall: The introduction of e-Safety to the National Curriculum this year shows moves are being taken to help tackle the increase in online risks to the young, and that’s good. It’s equally important that schools develop individual policies around what works best for them. All schools are required by law to have e-safety strategies in place and some are already working closely with bodies such as the Online Protection Centre.

What is worrying however, is a recent report showed that “nearly a third of teachers say they do not feel confident teaching online safety, while two in five say they have never attempted any lessons in the subject.” *1

Whilst I firmly advocate the teaching of e-safety in schools and agree it’s not all about blocking access, but allowing children to make informed decisions, I also believe we have a fundamental responsibility to go a step further in protecting our impressionable youth.

Schools Broadband has recently partnered with Lightspeed Systems which offers the most advanced filtering technologies that have ever been available to schools. Sophisticated filtering and proactive reporting on areas such as suspicious search queries provides safe enablement of internet content, thus empowering students and staff at the same time as protecting them.

Dynamic mobile filtering for off-network devices, ensures safe, secure 24/7 learning opportunities where filtering technologies able to detect patterns of activity associated with cyberbullying will raise alerts to other suspicious activities. 

With the rise of BYOD in schools and universities, security has become an increasingly important issue. How can we ensure we further reduce security risks in 2015?

Justin Beck: While there are technological ways to improve security from password standards, firewalls etc., strong policy practices and communication are of paramount importance. Clearly outlining dos
and don’ts, setting out clear expectations and monitoring the impact of BYOD is critical to support security best practices. It’s about the people, processes, policies and technologies working in unison to maximise positive outcomes.

Simon Harbridge: Firstly, we need to stop thinking about security as being the problem of stopping inappropriate or dangerous digital material from getting into a school and shared around. This issue is also about preventing material from getting out or being lost – data breaches, hacks, confidential personal information. A school’s device policy, whether it’s BYOD or on premise, can sit at the root of that – it’s an easy place to start and helps to get users and network managers comfortable with levels of security.

More educational institutions need to take a whole lifecycle approach to security too. A device policy should take into account what happens to the data that resides on hardware when it reaches the end of its economic life. Data breaches in such instances are on the rise outside of education, so it will be an increasing risk for schools to manage in 2015 as more learning technology is procured.

We think schools and universities should be doing more to plan for how they would manage a data breach, attempted hack or other such criminal activity. Does your school have a process of communication to follow if an incident occurs? Are you aware of the laws covering cybercrime, and the procedures that should be followed? Are your suppliers accountable for the part they might play in any incident?

David Tindall: It’s a fact that network attacks are increasing in their number as well as sophistication. Advanced persistent threats, known as APTs are the bane of every Network Manager’s life. In fact, keeping pace with such world threats is fast becoming a losing battle for schools and businesses to manage on an individual level.

Recognising the need for increased security, Talk Straight Schools Broadband has developed a unique partnership with Fortinet, one of the leading players on the global security stage. We are one of only a handful of Fortinet’s Managed Security Service Providers (MSSP) in the UK and as such offer world-leading carrier grade technologies which provide unmatched multi-threat protection – all in the cloud.

The development of next generation cloud-based firewalls such as those delivered by Fortinet, I believe is only possible by multi-national organisations, such as Fortinet, who have the financial backing and technology to continuously analyse and keep pace with world threats.

Our Managed Security Service combines firewall, intrusion prevention, anti-virus, anti-malware and anti-spam into a single system that updates every hour to protect networks against the latest threats. And because it’s all in the cloud, this means Talk Straight School’s Broadband customers will have access to one of the most advanced and cost-effective security services available today, with little to no capital outlay.

We saw MOOCs, BYOD and coding thrive last year. What’s on the cards for 2015? 

Justin Beck: The MOOC hype is settling a little from its peak, and we are only now beginning to see if MOOC attendees are translating into ongoing, enrolled students. For 2015, two big items institutions will be evaluating/watching are:

✥ Adaptive Learning technologies, large and small. This includes weaving new personalised pedagogical practices into core learning systems, as well as experimenting with publishers, open education resources and emerging systems to attempt to bridge the retention divide through a more tailored learning experience. 

✥ Video-based engagement. With more than 90% of the internet traffic being video-based by 2017, students will expect more video-based assignments, captured lectures, and video sharing by teachers. Tools to support teachers in easily building multimedia into their lessons and beyond continue to rise. 

Simon Harbridge: All three trends are going to continue to evolve and make an impact on learning. We do think security within schools and universities, from the most basic device policy to the more complex network issues, is going to be widely discussed in the next 12 months. As more data is run ‘through the cloud’ and schools begin to relook at managed services as a way to reduce costs, the information available from suppliers to increase confidence levels in the security of the ICT that underpins education must evolve.

David Tindall: Whilst we are already seeing a migration of some services to the cloud, because of the massive trend towards things like MOOCS and BYOD, the big thing for 2015 has to be cloud computing. The ability to access anything, on any device, from anywhere in the world is revolutionising education. Recent research shows only 5% of UK schools are not considering, planning, implementing or maintaining at least one cloud-based service.

Cloud computing is definitely beginning to challenge the humble onsite server with moves towards managed applications rather than extra costly hardware purchases. As technology and products progress however, we need to be mindful that so too will hacking attacks. If UK schools and businesses are to keep pace with the rest of the world, it’s important for them to consider the economic and security based advantages the cloud will offer.

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