A student’s ability to learn is increasingly dependent on digital connectivity - but not every student has the same access
When it comes to education, digital connectivity has almost become indispensable. Whether it’s equipping students to learn across Australia or simply making it easier for educators to do their jobs, educational equity is intertwined with internet access. To help level the playing field between metro-based schools and those in regional and remote communities, students need a similar level of access to digital learning resources.
Even before COVID-19 popularised remote learning, leaders knew that digital access was necessary in helping students to reach their full potential.
Gartner predicts that ‘digital dexterity’ and upskilling will eventually outweigh tenure and experience1, meaning it’s imperative that students are able to cultivate the necessary digital skills to succeed
Leigh Williams, CIO of Brisbane Catholic Education (BCE), and Tony Panetta, Head of Digital Transformation Partnerships at Catholic Education Western Australia (CEWA) are among the leaders that understood the importance of digital access. Both organisations are part of Catholic Network Australia (CNA), a not-for-profit organisation that empowers schools to negotiate technology services as a collective.
The group swiftly determined that connectivity would be a critical foundation for improving equity and enabling digital transformation projects.
Connectivity: an educational foundation
Whilst going through CEWA’s cloud-based digital transformation in 2017-18, it became clear to Panetta that the right network connectivity would be critical. It was central to “the whole vision around what we were trying to do”, he said. “That’s when we decided we were going to look at connections with most schools.”
But providing a similar level of connectivity to 74,000 students and 11,000 staff, with locations spread across Western Australia’s huge landmass, was a “major dilemma”, Panetta said. “It was very difficult to ensure that everyone had equity and access.”
Williams noted that these challenges also existed in Queensland for Brisbane Catholic Education, with the potential to seriously impact the experiences of educators and students alike.
“We had some schools with excellent network connection” she said. “But then others did not have that.” “Poor connections impact today’s digital lessons,” Williams said. “So that was a big issue and a big driver to get that equity and consistency of service.”
Both Williams and Panetta highlighted the value in moving quickly. “The way I saw it, every year or month that goes past, a student misses out on something,” said Panetta. “So we wanted this done relatively quickly.”
“No one wants students sitting in classrooms and then all of a sudden the internet goes down"
Source: - Leigh Williams, CIO, Brisbane Catholic Education
Leveraging SD-WAN for reliable flexibility
The schools of CEWA and BCE needed solutions that provided flexible carriage choices, while simultaneously delivering bandwidth and security at the network edge. Working with business nbn® through service provider Orro, they replaced their legacy solution with a software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN)2.^
“We opted for [business nbn] Enterprise Ethernet† as well as Fibre to the Premises (FTTP),” said Panetta. “Schools used to be islands of their own, and we solved that problem all in one hit.”
SD-WAN solutions are centrally controlled, and can use multiple connection types, including public internet and private services. Additionally, SD-WAN can be overlaid on existing networks, so that migration to more modern infrastructure can be done gradually and in-line with business requirements.
“Bringing in talent from across our network, as well as business nbn and Orro, we were able to build an architecture that was equitable – and provided a comparable connection to all,” said Panetta.
Though Orro is a service provider in addition to its role as MSP, van Rooyen explained that it worked closely with various other providers to select the vendors that suited the needs of schools in different locations.
CNA’s approach of using a mix of networks is increasingly common in other industries, van Rooyen said, helping ensure good experiences despite varied needs across different sites.
Connecting students to the future
“BCE’s project was delivered within time, but over-delivered on benefits. "
Source: Leigh Williams, CIO of Brisbane Catholic Education (BCE)
Along with relieved feedback from principals and teachers, It was noted that educators are now looking to bring in new learning methods enabled by augmented reality or online gaming.
“That, to me, has been the biggest winner. The future is headed toward digital transformation and we’ve got to prepare students for that.” said Williams.
nbn’s commitment to building Australia’s digital backbone delivers a scalable network that is supporting dispersed organisations like Catholic Network Australia on their digital transformation journey. This, coupled with business nbn's fibre initiative now means that more educational institutions around Australia, have access to a business-grade Enterprise Ethernet service from their preferred service provider.
The result is greater educational equity across the board and a boost to digital capability around Australia.