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Schools doubling down on data

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 02 August 2018, 7:09 pm

The nation's schools are proving voracious data users, consuming more than 12 petabytes in the first two school terms of this year. That's according to crown company Network for Learning (N4L), which connects more than 2400 schools across the country through its managed network.

The recorded data consumption by more than 800,000 students and teachers in New Zealand in the first six month of the year was almost twice that compared to the same time last year. The increase in use comes as N4L begins an upgrade to its network this month. It is the first major refresh of the managed network since it began in 2013 as part of the Ultra Fast Broadband programme. The Crown-owned company was incorporated in 2012 and ownership is held equally between two shareholding Ministers, the Ministers of Finance and Education.

As data use increases, so too does the number of malware and other nasties that need to be defended. A statement by N4L this week says that during the first half of the year "more than 374 million websites, and 118,000 viruses and malware threats were blocked across the managed network."

The N4L upgrade will see schools move to a combined firewall and internet filtering solution provided by Fortinet that will provide "robust protection against online threats such as phishing and ransomware."

Hawera High School in Taranaki became the victim of a ransomware attack this week, but N4L CEO Larrie Moore says that it has not opted into security services offered by them and is using an alternative commercial solution. "They are working with their IT company to look into how they were compromised. We've been in touch with the school and their IT company to offer our support," he says.

"Ultimately, schools are responsible for providing a safe learning environment for their students. N4L's connection goes to the school server cabinet, and beyond this, schools are responsible for managing their own internal networks. They decide on the tools they want to use to help them do this, with some schools choosing to opt out of our services, using commercial providers," Moore says.

N4L has also released a Statement of Intent (SOI) which outlines its strategy from 2018 to 2022. It notes that in addition to upgrading the managed network, which it expects to complete by October 2019, N4L has two other key initiatives over the next four years.

There is the Connecting Classrooms initiative, which will focus on the IT challenges faced by small schools with fewer than 100 students. "To help further reduce IT complexity, N4L will explore options to extend its Managed Network services beyond the school communications cabinet and into individual classrooms, shifting the point of connection closer to the learner."

The third initiative is Connecting Learners and is about finding ways to extend N4L beyond the school gate in areas where students may not have access to the internet at home.

The SOI document states that N4L has been working with partners such as the Ministry of Education, Spark and Chorus on closing the digital divide, and that "these efforts are aimed at future-proofing the Managed Network and bridging the digital equity gap." Pilot programmes have taken place with the Haeata Community Campus in Christchurch and Te Awakairangi Access Trust in Lower Hutt.

As the digital divide becomes less about location, and more about affordability, it is interesting to see how Government entities - or more precisely in the case of N4L, Crown Companies - are being deployed to close the gap. Communications Minister Clare Curran has an aspirational goal of closing the digital divide by 2020 and has established a Digital Advisory Group, while the Minister for Education Chris Hipkins and Associate Minister for Education Tracey Martin recently announced a $1 million fund for digital skills.


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