Biography: Kevin Kong has supported numerous schools and educational frameworks in establishing critical infrastructure services. As RM’s Internet Services Product Manager, his focus is on developing services and solutions to meet the increasing challenges in education.

As a broad trend, schools are consuming ever-greater volumes of bandwidth for connectivity. This development is considerably more pronounced in the secondary market, due largely to the widespread adoption of cloud technologies and schools having access to the technical expertise needed to embrace these technologies.

Cloud technologies have opened up a world of potential, but as more elements of school operations are stored in a cloud environment – and as the wealth of educational resources on media platforms like Youtube become an increasingly important part of the curriculum – the demand for bandwidth and the ability to stream multiple videos in a live environment is crucial.

This demand is as essential for teachers as it is for learners; if a teacher’s trying to give a history lesson and asks their class to log onto an app or learning platform, they need to be confident that the technology won’t fail or slow down their lesson.

At present, the majority of secondary schools are paying for bandwidths of around 200MB over a 1GB line, which is the very minimum that parents, teachers and pupils should expect. But as technology becomes more embedded into pedagogy, we’re now seeing more schools invest in 500MB or even 1GB services to allow for more concurrent use of cloud-based platforms and apps.

This is an encouraging trend, but the seamless use of technology in secondary schools is intertwined with the UK’s wider infrastructure, and from that perspective, we’re not exactly leading the way. The UK currently trails behind our European counterparts in terms of the affordable availability of high bandwidth solutions.

Though improving, many areas - especially rural locations - are ill-equipped to cope with increasing demand for faster download speeds from our swelling digital population, and from the growing need for on-demand technologies to be available and reliable in the classroom.

Ultimately, there’s a continuing need for more government-driven investment into upgrading our national infrastructure to improve internet coverage and speed across the UK, by increasing the investment in fibre provisions and continued regulation of the fibre market to ensure competitively amongst Telcos.

The recent announcement by the Government of a £400m Digital Infrastructure Fund to increase access to ‘Full Fibre’ broadband in the UK is a tremendous first step, but it needs to be a sustainable strategy rather than a one-off.

Greater focus should be given to making the market share fairer by bringing in alternative broadband providers to give consumers additional options to the typical Openreach or Virgin Media-based solutions.

Companies like Gigaclear, for example, directly address the challenges faced by rural homes, schools and businesses by installing independent fibre infrastructure and enabling access to fast and reliable internet connections. Typically, these areas are served by unfeasibly long lengths of copper cables - resulting in a subpar learning experience for schools.

In terms of the impact on our education sector, the worst-case scenario would be that if our systems and structures can’t cope with increasing demand, it could ultimately stunt the adoption of new technologies in the classroom – and we can’t afford to let that happen.

From a budgetary perspective, cloud technologies bring a wealth of benefits to schools and can create significant reductions in operational spend, but they depend on a solid infrastructure and the right broadband solution with the right safeguarding and security systems in place.

And while it’s understandable for schools to be averse to new investments in the current climate, technology often requires a short-term investment for a long-term gain; if schools can get their infrastructure right today, they’ll reap the benefits for years to come.

However, for seriously cash-strapped schools struggling with connectivity, there are some simple and effective actions that can make immediate improvements; a brief internal review of how frequently different online resources are used around the school, and how much capacity they take up, will reveal what’s putting the most strain on bandwidth.

It could be that during break times, Facebook usage peaks, or pupils are watching catch-up shows on Netflix in their lunch hour; activities which can take up significant amounts of bandwidth. Schools can then block or restrict access to these sites via their firewall or filtering solutions, limiting usage so that pupils can only access educationally-focussed or mission-critical apps and platforms.

From what we see, the average bandwidth consumption in any establishment increases by 40% year-on-year. Technology and its role in education is evolving so rapidly, and whatever service or solution schools invest in today may not be sufficient in three years’ time.

Broadband is one area where it’s extremely difficult to accurately plan ahead for usage. Therefore, we recommend that schools concentrate on matching their immediate requirements with the most cost-effective solution, but to also ensure that there is a clear upgrade path in place to meet their future needs.

We’d also advise schools to be wary of signing any contracts with broadband providers that last longer than three years - this will help to ensure that schools have the flexibility to expand and scale up their operations without restriction, as and when they need.

Advice panel
5 Key Broadband Considerations
  1. What are your school’s immediate needs? Do you need faster connections, more bandwidth, or greater security on your line?
  2. Does your school have a line with enough capacity for all your users to log on at the same time?
  3. Does your school have a back-up line if the first line goes down?
  4. Does your current contract tie your school into using one particular provider or service for more than three years? If so, can they help you scale up your broadband provision in the future as and when you need to?
  5. Does your broadband service have built in safeguarding and security solutions that tie in with your school’s policies and protocols?

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