IT leaders working in education are no stranger to the profound impact of the pandemic.
By Ronald Ravel, director: B2B at Dynabook South Africa
While many countries have re-opened schools following lockdown periods, the last year of online learning has ushered a new era in education – with technology at the heart of teaching and learning strategies.
As a result, whilst the future remains uncertain, digital plans for education institutions have taken on a new significance and IT teams have had to undertake a technology reset – assessing whether existing infrastructures and technologies are fit to deliver a secure and reliable learning experience. In fact, a recent study by Dynabook found that nearly two thirds of IT leaders in education will increase their IT budgets this year.
Unlike businesses, hybrid working isn’t having the same impact on the education sector. However, the pandemic has certainly shone a light on the need for appropriate ed-tech that can be used effectively in school and at home – even after this period. So, as we contemplate the future of learning, what do these new IT-led priorities look like in practice?
Same priorities, new significance
Remote learning has no doubt demonstrated the power of cloud-based technologies. While educational institutions shut their doors in the face of national lockdowns, many lessons were able to continue online with the help of digital solutions.
This has naturally had an impact on IT and their priorities. For example, Dynabook’s study found that that cloud-based solutions (53%), remote IT support and assistance and cybersecurity infrastructure (49%) were highlighted as top priorities for education IT administrators. The latter saw the biggest jump with 84% of IT decision makers citing security as more important than before Covid-19, while three-quarters (75%) of organisations noted cloud platforms as higher up in priorities.
Whilst many conversations regarding ed-tech are focused on student productivity, it’s important to also remember that support is needed for teachers to ensure a safe and effective learning environment. For many teaching staff – who experienced remote working for the first time – the very nature of their job meant working from home was a potentially difficult and isolating process.
Although most teachers in the UK are now back in the classroom, virtual lessons will remain part of many curriculums, especially in higher education. This means the argument for teacher productivity and collaboration will remain key as we enter a post-pandemic era. That said, 40 per cent of IT decision makers working in education admitted to finding both the most challenging area to get right.
Naturally, part of this includes providing teachers with the right technology to continue to support students with their learning. Dynabook’s research found that over half (58%) of educational organisations are already prioritising remote support technologies for staff.
Employee health and wellbeing has also been linked to productivity as these uncertain times have shone a light on mental health. For teachers, going from busy and engaging classrooms to isolation, has been even more of a transition. Unfortunately, there is also an indication of a disconnect between IT priorities and teaching staff welfare, with less than a third (30%) of IT leaders saying they would prioritise support for employee wellbeing.
The right device
While devices have long been an essential part of the classroom, even before Covid, their role within the education world has transformed in the last year. Laptop devices, in particular, have been the unsung heroes during national and global lockdowns.
According to Dynabook’s research, almost three-quarters (73%) of IT departments in education see purchasing decisions around these devices as more important now than they did prior to the last year.
So, what’s the future for devices in education as many schools plan their post-Covid digital strategies? While employees at 93% of organisations are already using laptops for remote working – the largest percentage among other sectors including financial services, government, and healthcare – nearly two-thirds (65%) of IT leaders plan to integrate more laptops into their IT infrastructure over the next year.
It’s understandable then that school IT teams and administrators will be looking to upgrade their existing fleet of devices to support potential news ways of learning and working. Expectedly, with the number of cyber-attacks that have plagued our headlines over the last year, security is seen as the most important requirement for purchasing new laptops for one-fifth of organisations – second only to performance (28%).
However, it’s clear that educational institutions are looking for devices which offer everything for an optimised learning or teaching experience, whether that’s high power, storage, and memory or a robust design to withstand the knocks and scrapes of school life. Most organisations are already taking note of this – citing the importance of security (87%), connectivity options (85%), performance (78%) and durability (75%).
In some ways, the last year can be viewed as a year which triggered digital transformation in many schools and colleges across the country. The pandemic has raised awareness of the digital services available to support education and, in turn, has led to many IT departments rethinking or upgrading their IT priorities and infrastructure. Over the last year, we’ve seen technology become a vital enabler both in the classroom and at home – and it’s clear it will continue to remain a key part of education for years to come.