School WiFi networks require control
It’s an open secret that nowadays, digital and media technology integration in quite a few schools is lagging far behind the equipment of your average consumer household, let alone online access and mobile devices of a significant proportion of their students.
Digital learning is really no longer a new topic.
Brief historical review: Agostino Ramelli’s bookwheel from 1588 was followed at some distance by various patents for spelling practice machines in the 1930s. The next step was branched learning programs and the German Geromat teaching machines of the 1960s, followed by pioneering projects for computer-aided teaching in the 1970s. The model experiment TOAM methods in mathematics at vocational schools initiated by Alfons Rissberger in Rhineland-Palatinate in 1986 was groundbreaking and focused on the future of e-learning. Now we have a diverse landscape of learning platforms, which have been on the rise since the late 1990s thanks to the spread of the Internet, and which have continued to develop ever since.
Today, the signs point to networking, standardization and generalization of access to digital teaching and learning systems. Schoolchildren, who move more and more in the online world in their everyday and leisure time, want more digital offerings at school, and the teaching staff can take advantage of ample digital support. All content is easier to reproduce and update, with obvious strong points in evaluation purposes and scalability of exercises and training for growing numbers of students. Upcoming AI projects will probably be able very soon to take some routine workload off the teachers’ shoulders and free their time for more important guidance tasks.
Looks like the future is bright. But the corona crisis – quite mean – brought up two painful subjects:
#1 Not all students are adequately equipped with digital devices, and also not with reliably available Internet access. Especially in the compulsory school area, but also in secondary schools, a considerable percentage of the pupils could not be reached during the lockdown phases.
#2 Availability of online access leaves much to be desired in many places. Now that the willingness and acceptance of online teaching have increased, it is imperative that they be available at schools and in afternoon care facilities.
So it’s time for school to do its homework. This includes a comprehensive WiFi infrastructure. WLAN is THE obvious option to provide all students with cost-neutral online access by using the school’s fiber optic connection. Every student should have easy access to the school portal, the communication platform with their teachers and the tasks provided at no additional cost.
However, it is essential to pay attention to safety. Neither do you want to make free data volume available to fence guests in the school’s WiFi range, nor do you want to offer points of attack for improper use. The logs of the activities of the students should be kept safe, but also be controllable if necessary, and of course the legally required protection of personal data must be observed. And distractions such as gaming or streaming platforms should also be largely ruled out.
There is no question that money has to be taken in hand. The EU agencies and national authorities react accordingly with funding programs.
Let’s discuss a few examples.
Germany: DigitalPakt Schule
The knowledge of a society is its most important asset and knowledge transfer begins with our children. Often, however, savings are made especially in education, pedagogical guidelines, teaching aids, media and materials are out of date and not even nearly up-to-date. Is there still an overhead projector in your child’s class? Many companies are state of the art when it comes to digitization, only our children – the future of society – are not or not properly prepared for it.
Politicians in Germany recognized this and closed the DigitalPakt School almost a year ago, on May 27, 2019. It is a nationwide support program that, among other things, should provide schools with better digital technology and thus create a ‘digital educational infrastructure‘. Overall, it is a matter of imparting “digital competence in order to be able to use digital media in a self-determined and responsible manner and to have good chances on the job market”, as it says on the website of the Federal Ministry.
The federal government provides the financial means and the federal states provide media education concepts, qualify teachers, examine applications and provide funding guidelines. The respective school authorities apply for funding and implement the measures. Over a period of five years, over five billion euros will be invested. With 40,000 schools in Germany, this is 137,000 euros per school or, with 11 million students currently, 500 euros per capita. Not only the children will benefit, but also the economy if well-trained workers enter the labor market.
What is funded?
Funding is provided not only for teaching materials such as digital whiteboards, VR glasses, school clouds and tablets, but also for the training of teachers and – of interest to us and our partners – fast WiFi. This includes networking within the building as well as between several school buildings on the same school premises and WiFi illumination.