Finding opportunities for education in a disrupted world
Education has always been a matter of critical concern in South Africa and the enforced disruption as a result of the global pandemic has thrown that into stark relief. From primary school through to university, the chasm between students with access to additional resources and those who relied on their schools and universities for resources has deepened.
While the true impact of the lockdown on educational outcomes will take a while to become apparent, there is an opportunity for those in education to begin to look at what can be learned from the crisis.
Kate Mollett, Regional Manager of Africa at Veeam, says it’s clear that the crisis meant there was some experimentation on the best way forward.
“There was a period of experimentation across the different institutions, often with multiple platforms being used to deliver learning digitally, but quite quickly they standardised on a single platform to reach students who were learning from home. The real challenge was connectivity and how to support those who didn’t have access to computers or broadband, and in the less affluent areas this was the rule rather than the exception.”
She adds that the challenges facing universities and other higher education institutions are more complex, in that they have significantly more data and IT systems that need to be accessed and protected, but simpler in that the students are more mature and able to cope better with self-guided learning.
Forcing the entire global education sector to move to a remote teaching and learning environment has, however, provided the opportunity for those in positions of responsibility to better understand how we prepare students for the future. Technology has a critical role to play in education and Mollett says there are a few key areas that need further investigation:
- Think local
“One of the biggest challenges has been providing access to resources, especially in less privileged areas. We’ve seen that private schools have been less disrupted than even the better resourced government institutions because their students had unfettered access to computers and broadband. This tells us that the biggest challenge facing us is access to resources.
“We can take a lesson from the home-schooling movement where small, hyperlocal learning centres provide a space were students can access online learning resources, work together and share information. While this is unlikely to replace traditional school and university environments, an extensive network of small learning centres could allow everyone access to the online resources they need for their education.”
- Share resources
“It’s not enough to simply point students at worksheets and YouTube videos and expect them to understand new material. The engaging teaching environment, where it’s possible to answer questions in real-time, is a critical part of the educational experience at all levels. We’ve seen how companies have embraced collaboration systems in order to remain operational and there’s a lesson in there for education.
“Even though you can’t get the best teachers to teach every class, you can create systems where resources are shared and standardised. By creating networks where information and resources can be shared and experts can provide ongoing training, it’s possible to raise skills levels across the board.”
- Deliver globally
“Especially in higher education, it’s becoming clear that to study at a top university you don’t need to leave your hometown. Across the world, we’re seeing universities switch to online-only learning and, while the ‘student life’ is important, it may soon be possible to get a degree from the best universities in the world without having to leave home.
“For South African universities, this will pose a new threat: they need to ensure that they can match, and exceed, anything international competitors can offer, making the most of their technology platforms and their ability to deliver in the physical world.”
- Protect your assets
“The biggest impact the pandemic has had on IT is endpoint protection and connectivity. Many universities and colleges may have always had the ability to provide a mobile offering for their students and staff. But data protection for student laptops might not have been a priority. Now with more and more education likely to happen digitally, schools and universities need to ensure that they protect these new assets. Just as we have security companies to protect physical assets, digital assets also need to be secured. It is not surprising that cyber threats are the biggest challenge that will impact EMEA organisations over the next 12 months, according to the Veeam 2020 Data Protection Trends Report. The education sector must educate employees and students on cybersecurity best practices to reduce the risk of cybercriminals gaining access to a network via phishing links, as an example. All remote workstations need to be backed up to secure endpoints and installed with the latest anti-virus software.
“This means more than teachers storing their lessons in the cloud or students submitting coursework online and hoping that their files remain secure and protected should the worst happen. Conducting regular backups is vital to ensuring the data employees and students create is stored and managed in the resilient way and having departments access data through a virtual private network. We recommend that organisations follow the 3-2-1 backup rule, which simply means there needs to be at least three copies of the data, stored on two different media and one copy stored offsite. Data needs to remain available and both employees and students need to have access to all the files, tools, apps and information that they are used to when on campus. Data needs to be secure as remote access puts it at risk from a security standpoint, but it also increases the attack vector for any malicious activity. While universities, who have sensitive research to protect, are aware of these needs, schools also need to start prioritising how they protect themselves in the event of a cyber attack.”