Back to school: how telecom operators can ensure the next generation of students get a quality education
Although recent events have drastically changed how the majority of us live, if there’s one group that will feel these changes most acutely, it’s students. The school experience at every level is driven by social interaction – in the classroom, playground, dorms and halls – and it is this interaction that students are saying they miss most. Although businesses have made the shift to online working largely satisfactorily, the shift to remote learning has presented its challenges, says Steven Rafferty, country manager of RingCentral.
We recently carried out a survey examining the feelings of students and faculty on remote learning in higher education and the expectations around it in the coming months. The results are startling, particularly when juxtaposed with the widespread consensus that remote working has boosted productivity and work/life balance.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, students (83%) and faculty (89%) agree that the Covid-19 pandemic will have a lasting impact on those in higher education. 67% of faculty believe online learning to be effective, but more than half have found their students to be less engaged when working remotely. Most interestingly, 87% of students say the lack of social connection is the most challenging part of online learning – and perhaps the main reason that students are less engaged.
What I find most fascinating about these results is that the generation currently in higher education is the same demographic that has grown up with smartphones readily available as part of their everyday lives. One would be hard pressed to find a teenager or young adult that has not grown up using these devices, which makes it rather ironic that they find in-person interactions to be a critical part of their academic success.
This dichotomy leaves telecom providers with a dilemma. There is a generation of users completely at ease with online, remote solutions, but at the same time, these users yearn for face-to-face interaction. In a situation that is far from desired, telecom operators must ensure the critical infrastructure is in place to facilitate online collaboration tools and keep students engaged.
There is a whole generation at risk of falling behind because they’re not engaged with their teachers and peers, but infrastructure can help ensure teleconferencing, for example, is readily available. For the most part, students (81%) find the flexibility of remote learning beneficial. And, with many universities planning to provide some form of online learning this autumn, implementing some of the technological and structural changes that students and faculty are seeking will go a long way in keeping everyone learning, happy and safe.
The shift to hybrid learning is not just for those in higher education. Bolton-based school, St. Bartholomew, identified video conferencing technology as a key tool for delivering lessons online while still encouraging engagement with students. Providing online education for roughly 200 pupils from reception through to year six is no easy task. With RingCentral’s video solution, the school has been able to create virtual classrooms that allow teachers to see their pupils face-to-face and get that real-time visual feedback, giving the teachers peace of mind during every interaction.
Teachers are also able to ensure meetings are fully secure by using unique meeting codes and passwords. In addition, teachers are able to implement fun challenges and collaboration activities, such as “where’s wally?” using RingCentral’s annotations feature, as well as weekly family quizzes, and regular check-in phone calls with parents via the platform. All of the above hinges on telecom providers ensuring that schools have the infrastructure and bandwidth to take part.
Although technology will never fully replace the benefits of in-person teaching for any age group, it can be an effective tool to reduce workload. Communications technology providers have an important role to play in helping educational establishments increase efficiencies and provide necessary tools to support excellent teaching methods and raise student attainment. This is only possible if students have the right tools, but in order to use these tools, they must have the supporting infrastructure.
There are myriad ways that telcos can ensure this generation keeps learning regardless of age, location and costs. One way organisations may help is by identifying students who are existing customers and offering them mobile data access, voice calls and messaging at no extra cost so that no student is priced out of being able to complete their studies.
Firms may choose to prioritise broadband upgrades wherever possible to university towns and campuses. Last but not least, it’s incorrect to think that all university students are fresh-faced youths. In the UK, 12% of undergraduates are over 40 years old. This age group, more than their younger peers, will both be more likely to be at risk of Covid-19 and also less digitally savvy. Telecom providers would be well advised to provide generous data allowances for vulnerable students and/or those juggling other responsibilities – thereby further facilitating them to have conversations without a broadband connection.
As far as understatements go this is a big one – students have had their lives completely turned upside down by coronavirus. Time spent in education is so much more than just learning – socialising, the exchanging of ideas, finding that the world is so much larger and varied than that which you had previously known. But during this difficult time, those of us who can help facilitate student education have a duty to do so. We at RingCentral deliver the tools necessary to keep everyone learning, while telecom operators make sure that those who need them have the bandwidth, infrastructure and support to use them.
The author is Steven Rafferty, country manager of RingCentral.