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COVID-19 fast-tracks brave new world in education

Read time 3min 30sec
Lesedi Dibakwane
Lesedi Dibakwane

The global pandemic is advancing higher education into a digitally-enabled future with the potential for broader access for students and enhanced learning experiences.

This emerged during a webinar presented by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Aruba in partnership with ITWeb, on the future of tertiary education.

The webinar, Transitioning to the new normal in higher education, highlighted the dramatic changes being taken across higher education as a result of the pandemic, and the potential for technology to enhance learning as a result.

Lesedi Dibakwane, enterprise account manager at HPE South Africa, said the COVID-19 pandemic had temporarily suspended education and training for millions of university and TVET students around the country, forcing a large-scale shift to remote learning. Despite a lack of infrastructure that had left some students unsupported, Dibakwane said remote learning will become the new norm

Higher education institutions are now looking to address the challenge of access and affordability. HPE is seeing a surge in interest from education institutions seeking to fast track digital transformation and remote learning, said Riaz Patel, value sales specialist at HPE.

Eugene de Souza, territory manager for Digital Networks at Aruba, a HPE company, said challenges in the way of remote learning included connectivity, device access and support for teachers and students. “A digital divide is being created that could have massive ramifications in the longer term,” he said. 

However, education institutions have been innovating quickly to find ways to enable remote learning. “We have seen some very creative responses,” said De Souza. “Some are offering students free or loan devices, free or low-cost Internet services, personal hotspots, and mobile access. We are now seeing parking lots turned into WiFi hotspots and free WiFi buses moving through cities so students can submit assignments and download textbooks.” Aruba was working with education institutions to enable hotspots with encrypted access in repurposed parking lots and remote access points for branch and home users, he added.

Mark Wayt, worldwide client platforms Architect, Digital Workplace and IOT Worldwide Practice at HPE, noted that the only institutions that had achieved business as usual had been those that embraced mobility and allowed remote access to their platforms. In future, he expected a surge in cloud adoption, with AI and new technologies such as augmented reality being used to deliver learning to students wherever they were, as well as to more effectively manage facilities, health and safety and administration. Security was crucial in this environment, he pointed out: “In a university environment, it’s not just about learning delivery and personal data protection, but also about protection of IP in research.”

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) delivers this, speakers said. “One of the biggest driving forces for VDI is management – it makes it easier to manage the boundary-less digital workplace,” Wayt said.

Stephan Steyn, solutions architect at HPE, outlined how HPE VDI addressed the current challenges of siloed infrastructure that is difficult to scale as it was designed to maximise uptime and prevent data loss.

The next generation higher education institution would likely offer hybrid learning, with students working both remotely and on campus, speakers said. The campus of the future would harness advanced technology to enhance education management and delivery, and look very different from traditional campuses. 

Dr Marco Macagnano, smart real estate and smart cities leader at Deloitte SA, said: “The assets at our disposal were designed for the past, and we need to look at reinventing real estate.” He outlined a future in which education would incorporate augmented reality in teaching and use intelligent computer vision for access control, tracking and tracing, maintenance and even sentiment analysis in lecture rooms. Location based services would increasingly be used for occupancy trends analysis, space booking and management, and IOT would become more important for environmental management.

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