The overwhelming majority of people in Scotland are in favour of increasing the role of technology in education, according to a recent survey.
The poll – commissioned by Capita’s Technology Solutions division on behalf of the Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN) – revealed an appetite among the public for schools to harness the power of new technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT).
According to the research, 85% of Scottish citizens believe IoT and digital technologies will enhance education in Scotland and help them prepare for a tech-driven future*.
Although largely untried and untested in a schools setting, there are signs that the demand for IoT is starting to take off in Scotland. In Edinburgh and South East Scotland, a government-backed city region deal project is underway to install sensors into schools, allowing pupils to capture data in their local environments – and make use of it in learning projects. Use cases have yet to be fully developed, but consultations with pupils have already found interest in using the sensors to capture weather, air and soil moisture, temperature and humidity level data.
The ultimate goal is to inspire students to ‘think big’ and devise new applications for data and coding, which supports the Scottish Government’s focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) education. It is hoped in the next 10 years that the city region deal’s deliverables will help train up to 100,000 data scientists and help to close the tech sector’s well-publicised skills gap.
Jack Anderson, Head of Product Category – IoT, Capita, explains: “IoT is presently an emerging market in education, but the potential for it to be applied in a ‘smart classroom’ setting is huge. We have seen from the research that the public is on board with the IoT revolution and you only have to look at adoption levels for connected devices in the homes. If we can use this opportunity to inspire students to become data literate through the rollout of sensors, it will bring tremendous benefits to the way education is delivered.”
The research shows citizens see the benefits of tech in enhancing learning for students with disabilities and additional support needs (91%), and connecting and improving attainment for students living in remote and rural areas (92%).
Anderson said: “Ultimately, these technologies can be an advantage to every student in Scotland. This is particularly true when it comes to ensuring equal access to education – especially for those in remote and rural areas – and helping them prepare for a tech-driven future. We’re seeing a lot of government investment into high-speed internet across Scotland – especially for the one in five of households that remain unconnected. We now need to make sure citizens across these remote and rural regions are aware of the possibilities that come with the right infrastructure and reliable connectivity.”
Anderson described the IoT component of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal as potentially a ‘catalyst’ for more widespread adoption of the technology in Scotland. There are two aims to the project – which has recently gone to the RFI stage of procurement – which will see IoT infrastructure rolled out to over 550 schools in the region over 18 months. The first is to deliver ‘near complete coverage’ of IoT in schools throughout South East Scotland, including Fife, with the second being to create easy to ‘deploy and use’ packages for schools.
Anderson said: “It could well act as a template for other regions across Scotland to engage with IoT. We have done a lot of work with NHS Highland and Highland Council on remote connectivity, and there is a desire there to understand what benefits IoT could bring to island and rural communities. Our role is to get connectivity up via the SWAN network and then add value by bringing in the applications of IoT which transforms the way services are delivered.”
“We are already seeing the benefits of digital technology in education – the SWAN network has allowed us to deliver courses to anywhere in the world via distance learning,” added Jem Taylor, Head of Strategy and Development in the University of the Highlands and Islands’ learning and information services department, which uses the Vscene distance learning platform developed by tech company Ajenta, and which is powered by the SWAN network.
“Digital technologies have removed many of the geographical barriers that previously restricted students’ learning. With our learning centres spread around the Highlands and Islands, Moray, Argyll and Perthshire, this has been invaluable in helping us level the playing field for further and higher education in the region.”
Ajenta’s technology, in particular, has seen a massive surge in demand with the government-imposed lockdown due to Covid-19.
Before the pandemic, Vscene was supporting on average 500 virtual classes and meetings per day. That figure is now exceeding 9,000 and growing on a daily basis, according to the company, which is working to support schools, colleges and universities so that they can continue to deliver classes, ensuring the same level of teaching is delivered as they would if they were in the same physical room.
John Wilson, CEO of Ajenta, said: “The Ajenta team have worked day and night to increase capacity to allow such a rapid increase in demand. Fortunately, we have not experienced any outage issues as our service is only available for use by education and public sector. This ensures we our customers can communicate effectively and provide assistance and action to support the most vulnerable.
“Reliance and trust in and digital technology is crucial during a time like this. We are continuing to support our users where possible to help with contingency planning and digital preparedness and to ensure they have everything they need to provide true continuity of operations.”
The Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN) was launched by Capita in 2014; it provides connectivity to approximately 6,000 sites across Scotland and more than 90 organisations including schools, hospitals, GP surgeries, pharmacists and 50 per cent of local authorities, with 250 unbundled exchanges and over 7,000km of fibre network.
To download the report, visit: https://go.capita-it.com/connectededucation
*The research was undertaken in May-June 2019, commissioned by Capita Technology Solutions on behalf of the Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN) and conducted by independent market research company, Opinium. The total sample size of 2,000 consists of Scottish adults aged 18 or over, from all regions of the country.