Schools of any size and sector can enjoy the benefits of IT just as companies do: without the cost burden, management headaches or legacy.

  Johannesburg, 16 Mar 2018

Technology holds a lot of promise for education. Learners can access information faster, teachers can interact more easily with their pupils and a world of new educational tools and sources have become available for classes of all levels.

“IT in modern schools have really migrated from old servers and static PC labs to a more cloud-based mobile environment,” says Lulu Burger, Director of Education at the Onsite Group. “Google Classroom is a perfect example of a very effective workflow between teachers and students. It leads to students being able to access information at any time and teachers being able to provide students with immediate feedback and curated resources. There are fantastic online assessment tools and of course educational video content that enhances learning. If the internet speeds are not fast enough, students miss out on 21st century learning.”

These ideas are a far cry from the staid computer science classrooms with rows of antiquated machines. Yet many schools don’t believe they are capable of affording new technologies, despite the many advantages. Some also feel burned by the march of technology – for example, digital textbooks on tablets have not been popular for a variety of reasons. More common is the grudge against technology’s delays: slow speeds and unresponsive services drain valuable teaching time and add to the frustrations of keeping the attention of today’s pupils.

The need for technology in education

Burger agrees that these problems are valid, serious, and need to be addressed, but noted that not participating in the technology revolution is not really a choice:

“Information Technology has become the driver of a lot of learning that happens in schools. The skill of navigating the internet, creative content creation, spotting fake news and just doing research on-line has become a critical part of learning and teaching.”

This has been adding to the pressure for change: “The move towards students bringing their own tablets have forced schools to relook their internet, firewalls and the workflow between teachers and students. IT Infrastructure and internet speed is blamed often for the loss of teaching time because of the slowness or it not working at all.”

Managing technology costs

Technology in schools often falls short because there isn’t enough focus on it, usually because of lack of training for teachers and budget concerns. But these problems can be addressed organically by using the norms of managed technology services, a very popular choice among small and medium businesses. Even simple steps in modernisation can help open budgets around technology, said Burger:

“Yes, technology is expensive, but if a school cut down on their printing, for example, those funds could be used to get proper IT infrastructure installed and managed. Schools spend between R200 000 – R700 000 per year on printing. Once your workflow is working, printing will become less and the maintenance of the printers and ink will also be reduced. Think about your budget and allocate enough funds towards IT infrastructure and training prior to even considering rolling out student owned mobile devices.”

Local schools that have matured their digital pedigree are taking full advantage of this, running everything from administration to class lists and timetables through a central digital platform. This is made possible with modern software platforms, which do not require the same type of up-front cost ownership as traditional software, and the expertise of managed service providers.

In the managed service models, schools don’t keep a permanent IT department on staff. Instead this responsibility goes to an IT provider such as Onsite, which then works within the budgets and service requirements of the school. Other than being a boon for cost savings, it also gives the school access to the insights and skills of the service provider. So a school no longer has to ask why its network is slow – it can simply expect it to work and hold the managed services provider to account if it does not.

Managed Services vs Outsourcing

Managed services is not outsourcing. It takes care of the operational burdens but leaves the school firmly in charge and able to benefit deeply from the relationship. An external service provider of this sort should consult with the school first, map out a phased plan and then implement. Training your teachers is the most important part of any technology roll-out, Burger explains:

“I believe that there is not enough emphasis on teacher training. The teachers are the ‘gatekeepers’ to technology innovation in schools and if they are not supported, very little will change. The importance of phasing technology and innovation into a school will fail if there is no effective professional development for the teaching staff.”

Unfortunately schools miss sight of all these other advantages and drive IT purely as a cost centre. The result is often paying the cheapest price for an under-qualified reseller that simply installs equipment – and often does so badly. When there are problems, the reseller simply charges more.

Managed services is entirely different. It does not simply sell technology, but instead looks at the school’s requirements, then designs a way forward that the school and provider walk together. The absolute value of this reflects in lower costs. Managed service providers are also always on call, ready to act, and don’t simply swing by once a week for a mandatory site visit.

It’s an approach that can be scaled based on the institution, public and private, regardless of where their current IT level is. Schools can start small, gain quick wins and build their technology pedigree.

“It is really important to get educational experts in to plan, structure and install your IT infrastructure,” Burger concluded. “Information Technology is used extensively to speed up administrative processes and in making communication more effective between all parties involved. All of these need to be managed and maintained properly and continuously as a lot of what the school is about is now driven by technology. But it shouldn’t cost a fortune. Once schools realise they can think beyond cost paradigms, all kinds of doors open up both for them and the future of their students.”