Today there are few areas of the world that haven’t been disrupted by the health crisis. With entire countries going into lockdown and everyday life effectively coming to a halt, many sectors have had to quickly adapt and reimagine the way in which they work. This disruption has required a prompt and drastic overhaul of the ways in which the education sector can deliver teaching to students – with many being forced to roll out virtual lessons and online assignments, placing an enormous strain on its existing digital infrastructure systems, IT departments and subsequently connectivity networks. Here edge computing has become a key enabler for digital learning.
Across many European countries student education has suffered and today the World Economic Forum anticipates that globally, as many as 1.2bn children are currently out of the classroom or experiencing a severe disruption to learning. The new academic year is quickly approaching, and while it may be possible for the education system to operate physically through alternate weekly rota systems, the European Commission has suggested that two thirds of recent survey respondents believe that ‘e-teaching’ experience will be here for the foreseeable future.
From primary and secondary schools to universities and other higher education sectors, the industry has felt the pressure to quickly transform and build resiliency into its IT systems. Consequently, this has brought a considerable challenge for IT operators alike. According to the European Data Portal, nine percent of students across Europe do not have access to “a quiet space to study”, along with variable access to computers and enough Internet connections.
Challenges facing the sector
Technically speaking, these unprecedented times will result in countless short and long-term challenges for the education sector. The industry itself was already investing heavily in the development of new technologies long before the health crisis. The World Economic Forum suggests that global EdTech investments reached over $18bn in 2019, with Barclays Research predicting they could reach up to $350bn by 2025. However, there are several key challenges which must be addressed by IT and facility operators – those which will require considerable change.
First is the issue of capacity. Schools, colleges and universities all depend on digital infrastructure to carry out the daily operations. Some are more advanced than others, but it is highly unlikely that any will be prepared for the incoming demand of this new style of teaching for the next academic year.
Second is the strain on existing infrastructure. The need for upgrading is undoubtedly going to become an enormous hurdle to overcome, demanding sudden computing resources, time and budgets, which no public sector could have pre-empted at the beginning of 2020.
The final task is ensuring maximum uptime and connectivity. Downtime causes organisations to lose money, business, and damage their reputation, but in the education sector, downtime equals the loss of quality education for millions.
Risk of downtime and its consequences
Today, it is predicted that the average cost of IT downtime ranges from around €250,000 – €420,000 per hour for a typical business. Yet, depending on the scale of the organisation, downtime or unplanned power events can cost upwards of €850,000.
In the context of education, this brings an entirely unique pressure to the situation – how can organisations leverage resilient infrastructure to prioritise the availability of valuable teaching resources, and ensure that education can continue uninterrupted?
To support this challenge, Schneider Electric has devised a three-stage-plan to support large-scale online learning. It covers the short term: expanding capacity through UPS systems and additional power distribution units. The medium term: how to ensure good health for and monitor your systems through rapidly scalable solutions, and the long term: how to adapt your systems and staff to this ‘new’ normal, through remote monitoring and edge management solutions.
The reality is that without students being able to physically see their teachers or lecturers, and with new research into the pandemic continuing to influence decision making around the reopening of schools, right now it seems there may only be one way to safely deliver an effective education experience at present – virtually.
Prevention and support
At the hardware level, this may be through backup servers, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) or power distribution units. Here, the crucial consideration is to ensure that the infrastructure allows for quality education to continue, uninterrupted.
Whether this means upgrading existing systems, an overhaul of the existing infrastructure, or investing in new technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, one thing is clear – the health of IT systems are of paramount importance to ensure a digital education is delivered to those who are unable to access physical teaching at present.
At Schneider Electric, we believe that IT and critical power systems should be monitored in real-time, leveraging AI and data analytics with easy to use monitoring, ensuring they are maintained to the highest possible standard. Here cloud-based remote monitoring offers detailed insights into the health and status of an educational computing or power system, especially if access to site is an issue.
Planning for the future
As countries around the globe get ready for the next academic year, governments continue to invest in ensuring schools, universities and other public sector services can open safely, but the situation remains sensitive. Education providers must plan for the future now, ensuring that the next generation of students gain the education they were once promised, before it is too late. The key to delivering a digital education experience is found in resilient power, IT and connectivity.
To learn more about how to increase resiliency in educational IT environments, visit our edge computing solutions page.