GUEST OPINION: The internet offers schoolchildren everywhere unprecedented opportunities for learning. In the classroom or at home, it provides vast amounts of essential information to support student course curriculum while also providing an essential place to communicate with fellow students, teachers and organisations across an ever-expanding range of platforms.
As technologies such as AI and machine learning come to the forefront and IoT brings more and more devices onto networks, the internet will continue to revolutionise education and the way students are taught for the foreseeable future.
For educators, placing vast amounts of information at the fingertips of school children comes with big responsibilities, however, and making the internet a safe place has become a major priority for IT managers in the education space. First and foremost, this means securing their networks from malicious actors, but just as important is the need to ensure that the right content filtering measures are in place to stop students accessing what they’re not supposed to, regardless of their location or the device they happen to be using to connect.
Schools have grappled with the issue of content filtering ever since the internet emerged as an education tool, investing heavily in filters, firewalls, and patches to limit network access. At the same time, classroom internet usage has increased markedly, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Teachers have had to adjust their plans completely, while IT teams across the sector have worked tirelessly to make distance learning a reality. This remote push has also led to far greater scrutiny of the security measures in place and the tools required to provide a safe education experience from distance. At the same time, however, cybercriminals have been busy exploiting the vulnerabilities inherent in older systems trying to keep up with this rapid change of pace, as evidenced by the explosion in ransomware attacks since the advent of the pandemic across all sectors, not just education. So how do educators maintain control over connectivity, security, and privacy under such trying circumstances?
This rise in demand for robust and safe internet solutions for schools has brought with it a range of accompanying IT challenges. Educators require solutions that not only keep their students safe from security threats and dangerous websites, but also maximise the potential of their Apple devices as learning tools.
The best solutions for remote learning
IT budgets at schools and other learning institutions are typically conservative and IT managers are often hampered by legacy infrastructures consisting of outdated servers, firewalls and software that is no longer supported on modern devices.
Additionally, there is often a general lack of awareness of the Mac-specific needs of a school’s IT ecosystem. The advent of remote learning on such a large scale also took many institutions by surprise, with no adequate security or content filtering systems in place.
Educators have had to scramble to get the right security solutions in place across disparate locations and devices while simultaneously maximising student productivity.
However, there are several ways to secure remote learning. These include:
• Blocking students from accessing harmful content through constant network inspections and content filtering
• Preventing a broad spectrum of security threats such as malware and phishing from impacting students
• Protecting student identity through multi-factor authentication involving biometrics
• Safeguarding and managing devices with effective end-point protections and regular automated updates.
In addition, using only secure private Wi-Fi networks, as opposed to public Wi-Fi, is essential, as it greatly reduces the threats of being hacked or being held to ransom, while Wi-Fi hotspots also contain an inherent lack of privacy. Virtual private networks (VPNs) are yet another safeguard against security threats as they provide a valuable layer of security from public internet networks.
At the same time, parents are another important stakeholder in the education community and there are solutions which can provide them with device management control so they can make restrictions to browsers and apps on student devices as well as set location notifications.
These solutions for parents, teachers and students should all be used in conjunction with some student education about device management across networks and the adoption of ‘best practices’ such as following strict guidelines for device management and only using authorised apps on their devices.
As threats become more and more sophisticated, today’s IT solutions can play an increasingly important role in the safe internet experience of students everywhere.