It’s estimated that for COVID-related reasons, between 9% and 11% of state school pupils – that’s around 876,000 children – did not attend school on 19 November 2020. This includes children having to self-isolate if they’d been in contact with a child or teacher that had COVID-19, or if they had it themselves.
Daily disruption in schools will sadly be the reality for the foreseeable future and education will have to be delivered via a hybrid approach of remote/digital learning and face-to-face instruction. So, it’s vital that schools have a digital communications and learning strategy in place, and that collectively, we strive to close the digital divide that has been so prevalent this year.
It’s all in the prep
At the start of the pandemic, schools were not prepared for what was to come and IT managers and headteachers were having to deploy new or interim solutions to enable voice and digital communications and online learning solutions. Now, we are nearly a year into this crisis and all children will need continued access to remote communications and learning solutions if they are self-isolating. Schools need to be prepared and ensure they have an effective unified communications solution to enable staff, children and parents to communicate and access learning platforms.
The first step is to ensure they have a robust and reliant communications infrastructure that can handle the devices and broadband required. It’s recommended that they work with a solutions provider who can guide and advise them on how to leverage their existing technology to protect their investment, understand what objectives the school has and recommend the suitable technology they require.
Get flexible with the cloud
Hosting your communications in the cloud is more cost-effective, robust and secure. It also provides you with the flexibility to add on applications and technology when required, which is essential today.
“Hosting your communications in the cloud is more cost-effective, robust and secure”
You don’t need to ‘rip and replace’ and move to the cloud completely – you can adopt a hybrid deployment with the option of migrating at your own pace in order to protect your investment and legacy technology.
For the past year schools have been using Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Classrooms to teach and communicate during lockdown #1, as well as now, with large numbers of classes or sometimes entire classes self-isolating. For the foreseeable future it looks like hybrid learning will continue, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. A recent study from Microsoft and YouGov reported that 71% of teachers want to ensure that students get adequate and fair access to technology and data, 65% stated that lack of face-to-face time was an issue, 53% stated that student welfare, social and development was under threat and 51% stated it effected the ability to teach.
However, this is going to continue for the next few months and from a technology point of view, it’s integral that these unified communication solutions are integrated with existing systems, technology and mobiles to have a single unified communications solution for ease, effectiveness and simplicity.
Growth of the digital divide
Unfortunately, not every student has access to broadband or a device to access remote communications and learning solutions from home. Office for National Statistics data published in 2019 reports that 60,000 kids 11–18 don’t have internet connectivity, and 70,000 don’t have a computer, laptop, tablet or iPad at home.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, more than ever before, the extent of the digital divide and how disadvantaged children have suffered greatly, missing out on education during the first lockdown, and continuing to do so during this disruptive time. That’s why it’s imperative that this inequality is addressed so these children are not severely disadvantaged and miss out.
In April, the government announced they would give laptops and routers to pupils in need – including Year 10s, care leavers and pupils with social workers. Abzorb supplied the SIM cards that go into MiFi devices, enabling WiFi to ensure that children could access online learning from their schools while at home. As the children were based in different areas of the UK, some areas had stronger network coverage than others. These SIM cards can access all the networks instantly and ascertain what network coverage is the strongest in the area, using that one to access the internet.
However, despite the government’s efforts, nationally, only a third of school trusts received fewer than 10 laptops for their eligible Year 10s, while 27 Trusts received only one. Though 540,000 pupils were eligible for the scheme, only 200,000 laptops were delivered to schools by August,.
Flexibility is key
In a forever changing world, flexibility is key. It’s what all schools need, whether to scale up and scale down, adding new technology and applications when required, and to increase or decrease data on SIMs.
Keeping it safe
When children are learning from home, it is of course imperative that they only view sites on the internet that are secure and meet the governmental standards to protect them from viewing harmful content. Schools can ensure that all traffic on the SIM card passes through a cloud filtering platform, ensuring the safeguarding of the children. When a child accesses a website, this request is analysed in milli seconds to decide if it’s an approved site. Both the teachers and the local authorities can also have visibility of the traffic and view reports enabling them to set policies of what sites were and were not allowed.
Training and upskilling
Schools and teachers have never faced such disruption and this year may have changed the face of education forever. New technologies, new means of working and teaching, communicating and learning have greeted students and teachers. Many have had to upskill on the technology so they can use it and share knowledge with students. If there has previously been a digital skills gap in education, then now is time to close that gap with schools and technology suppliers.
Now is the time
Now is the time to implement a long-term digital communications and learning strategy that will transform your communications and processes and provide you with the opportunity to build on it for the future. Hybrid learning is here to stay, and we have no choice but to close the digital divide, so we need to harness what we have learnt over the past year, look to evolve and carry-on testing what works and doesn’t work to improve communications in schools and teaching to the advantage of the staff, students and parents. Students are the next generation, and it’s up to us to provide them with the tools they require for education.
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