Not long ago, school IT departments were merely seen as a branch of school operations that provided support and maintenance for hardware and software. However, with over 1,2-billion children globally1 affected by school closure during Covid-19, school IT departments took on the pivotal role to ensure the continuation of education through technology.

But seeing technology as a mere utility to enable remote learning during a crisis would be missing the point.

The remote-learning experience over the past year has taught us that the use of personal devices, online collaboration platforms, and e-learning resources can be effective2. This experience has also given us a glimpse into the future of education where teaching and learning could be hybrid.

Students can learn anytime and anywhere and can embrace more engaging learning models by using technologies such as virtual reality (VR). Teachers, too, can capitalise on both existing and emerging digital solutions, with instructional design, multimedia production and data analytics becoming increasingly vital.

As schools around the world pursue the education of tomorrow, the role of school IT departments must evolve from a support function to a strategic role in exploring new technologies that can be integrated with the school curriculum. This also means that school IT will need to build a solid IT foundation that can enable them to be more hands-off in regular IT support and maintenance, so their time and resources can be better utilised where the value is.

For this to happen, three key areas school IT departments need to build into their IT foundation.

DaaS: a computer into the hands of every student

To reap the benefits of hybrid learning, the first step is to ensure that every student has a personal device. However, many students from lower-income households do not have the means to afford it, and schools and governments are also often stretched with their budgets and unable to carve out additional funding to procure computers for every student.

This is when Device-as-a-Service (DaaS) makes more sense than direct purchasing. DaaS is a flexible consumption model that offers lease-like subscriptions to the number of devices a school needs. Here, instead of procuring, configuring and setting up hundreds of devices based on everyone’s needs, school IT departments simply make the strategic decisions on the type of devices to lease, the capabilities they need to come with and what a device-management plan should look like. The DaaS provider will then act as the school’s extended IT team to provide services in deployment, support and maintenance around the clock.

The result is a device strategy that is more affordable, flexible and scalable that can be closely aligned with the technical requirements needed to support students, faculty and staff. At the same time, school IT departments can focus on more critical aspects of their job – the exploration of new technology and its integration with learning materials that can help enhance students’ understanding, build critical thinking and nurture creativity.

Centralised IT management: single view across every device

With students, faculty and staff having their own devices and set of software, management can be a mammoth task. School IT departments would have to manage hardware inventory and warranties, software licensing, data access and more – across every device. Consider the time and resources needed to monitor and manage all these devices, all with disparate configurations and requirements.

This makes having a centralised IT-management system key to the success of the future of education. The ability to monitor and manage all the servers, workstations and devices through one cloud-based dashboard can greatly improve the efficiency of IT management. Through remote management and automatic system setup, the dashboard can run routine tasks directly such as dispatching software and controlling USB usage without anyone having to lay a finger on the physical device.

The time saved using a centralised management system can be substantial, and ultimately this is not only beneficial to the school IT departments, but to the students, faculty and staff as well – because IT downtime is greatly reduced to ensure seamless learning and teaching experience.

Zero trust: the approach to cybersecurity and privacy

That said, as schools become ever more connected through the various devices, software and tools used, risks to cybersecurity threats also grow. 2020 marked a record-breaking year3 for cyberattacks against schools in the USA, as cybercriminals found new avenues for data breaches, phishing scams and malware attacks as schools transitioned to remote learning. This trend will continue to grow as schools continue to pursue digital transformation in education.

For sophisticated cybercriminals, the disparate use of devices and software accessed through different networks provides more endpoints and potentially easier access to sensitive data. What school IT departments need is an inside-out, zero-trust approach with a multilayer foundation of IT management, identity security and hardware protection.

This will require a centralised management system that allows IT staff to remotely control school assets, security solutions such as fingerprint sensors and BIOS passwords that protect data from unauthorised users, a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip that securely stores authentication information, and much more. It is only when schools can leverage technology with peace of mind, can new ideas and solutions in education technology flourish.

Technology will take centre stage in the future of education. To unleash the new possibilities in teaching and learning, school IT departments must become a strategic function where IT managers work closely with education experts. With people’s memories of remote learning still fresh, there is no better time than now to make a case to free IT departments from the never-ending routine of support and maintenance, so the underlying IT foundation, for the future of education, can be built.