Education: effective, safe technological tools across the board

Facts

  • 14%of adults in Québec do not have access to a computer at home.1
  • 45.6%of rural households have access to high-speed internet of 50 Mbps and above.2
  • 85%of teachers estimate that using the game at least once a week has a direct positive impact on their test results.3

1Étude NETendances 2020  2Rapport de surveillance des communications 2020. CRTC. Sondage de satisfaction 2020. La Constellation de l’Ours.

The pandemic catapulted the adoption of new technologies in schools. Given the urgency involved, not all tools were implanted effectively, however. The time has now come to connect more and, more importantly, to connect better.

The hurried digital shift that took place over the past few years has revealed inequalities between the students themselves, as well as between the schools, which are not all equipped in the same way to give students and staff access to the latest cutting-edge technologies.

Thankfully, this situation can be rectified.

Students who are not always properly connected

The digital gap between students is very real. The vast majority of Quebecers are equipped for remote classes, but not all (14% of adults in Québec do not have access to a computer at home, according to the NETendances 2020 study). Service centres and school boards have all successfully provided students who needed it with the equipment necessary to learn from home. The quality of the Internet access at the students’ homes, however, remains an issue.

87.4% of Canadian urban households have 50 Mbps or higher high-speed Internet, according to the 2020 Communications Monitoring Report by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. The rate drops, however, outside urban areas, as only 45.6% of rural households can say the same.

And yet, this type of service is essential for students, be it to attend class virtually in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, or simply to be able to do group work. It is crucial that children be adequately equipped to learn in a positive environment. Without adequate Internet access, students can fall behind.

Videotron is involved in Operation high speed, an initiative that should make it possible for all Quebecers who so desire to have high-speed Internet access by next year. The inequality issues will not be resolved, however. After all, not all families have the means to pay for such access.

The service centres and school boards can level the playing field by providing the students with LTE pods, Wi-Fi routers that connect to the mobile network and offer users high-speed Internet the same way a wired connection would. These devices can reach speeds of up to 150 Mbps, which is more than enough for students to be able to attend virtual classes (and to meet their camera, screen-sharing, and downloading needs). In Canada, 96% of the population has access to an LTE network, according to the CRTC.

The same way schools sometimes loan students computers and tablets, they can loan these pods to the students who need it for a given period, ensuring they are equipped for remote classes; the students can return them to the school once they are done.

Technological backlogs in schools

Various technological tools can be put at the teaching staff's disposal to provide them with modern educational solutions that the students will enjoy.

But merely giving classes a few tablets and white boards is not enough to improve teaching and reduce the school drop-out rate, which now affects 14.2% of students, according to the Minister of Education. A 2019 meta-study out of Denmark on how technologies impact drop-out rates revealed that it’s not so much the technology itself that matters, but rather how it is used in academics.

Educational tool providers understood this lesson, and many of them subsequently devised services focusing on the students and the work of the teachers. Here is one of many examples: Classcraft is based on motivating games that help create a positive experience for students. With this ecosystem of integrated tools, learning becomes a real video game, with tests being reminiscent of beating the boss—enemies you face at the end of each level in a game. Education becomes a mission, and kids are the heroes who can move at their own pace.

Another example: Boreal tales, a popular literary and artistic creation ecosystem, focuses on reading, writing, and the social world, and it provides great educational support for teachers. According to a 2020 satisfaction survey, 97% of teachers who use the game have noticed a positive impact on students’ motivation toward writing, and 85% of them estimate that using the game at least once a week has a direct positive impact on their test results.

And these are just two of many solutions available to Québec schools. There are more than 100 educational technology organizations in the province, and more than half of them develop software solutions for elementary and high school students, according to a 2021 study on Québec’s educational technologies by Edteq (in French only).

A turnkey solution of this type is not even a must for integrating technologies in class. For instance, a teacher can encourage students to film themselves solving math problems, and post their videos on the school’s private network, YouTuber-style.

Regardless of the tools used by teachers and students, one fact remains: all of them require fast, reliable Internet. Unfortunately, Internet quality varies greatly from one school to another. Whereas certain establishments have all the latest technologies, others are trailing behind, even in 2021.

To rectify the situation, these facilities should get Internet over a dedicated fibre. This type of Internet connection with multiple speeds is delivered over an operator-grade Ethernet network with 1 to 10 Gbps access port capacity. The bandwidth can vary from 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps, based on your needs. With 10 Gbps, your Internet connection will be more than sufficient to meet your students’ and staff’s growing needs.

Connected schools also need a stable Wi-Fi, like the Wi-Fi Pro, which can be used in class for remote learning and as an Internet solution for the school’s cafeteria. Why is this important? The Boreal Tale, for example, allows students to continue playing even if the Internet goes down, but it won’t allow them to save any work done during this time. An unstable connection is simply not an option for a modern connected school. A good Wi-Fi network is also important for remote mentoring and learning, when teachers are giving a lesson remotely from their classroom.

Teachers could also take advantage of this fast and reliable Internet and gain in time and efficiency. Overall, the digitization of schoolwork and tests can make life easier for both students and teachers. The Antidote checker, for example, can be a helpful tool when it comes to finding spelling mistakes, and multiple-choice tests can be corrected automatically in platforms like Google Forms. In the context of a labour shortage, this could help retain staff.

Improve student and staff safety

The Internet of things (IoT, the name given to billions of connected objects around the world) is growing in popularity among businesses and households (47% of adult Quebecers now have a smart device at home, according to the NETendances 2021 study), as well as in schools.

This comes as no surprise. IoT solutions have many benefits for schools: they offer better security for students and in turn give parents peace of mind from the moment the kids step foot onto the school bus.

The mTransport system by Québec’s own MPhase, powered by Videotron Business, helps implement a true, smart school transportation service. Using the Internet of things, children enter their status when they get on and off the bus. Parents therefore receive a notification once their child has arrived at school. In the evening, they can track the bus remotely and be there to greet their child when they get back home.

On the bus, a tablet is set up near the driver, with an app that says which children should be getting on or off at each stop. In the context of a labour shortage, where staff could change quite often, this tool is especially useful, as a driver can step in for another more easily without the risk of forgetting a child along the way.

The Internet of things can also improve security within the school. While the CO2 detectors from the Minister of Education should arrive shortly all over Québec, establishments of all levels (IoT solutions are available in elementary and high schools, as wells as in cegeps and universities) can measure air quality themselves using connected sensors. That way, it is possible to monitor carbon dioxide levels, as well as other gases, like radon, from a smartphone or computer.

Several of these devices can also detect elevated levels of carbon monoxide (without detecting it in low concentrations, however). A notification is sent out in the event of any danger. Two years ago, a heating system joint breakage had led to about forty people suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning at Montreal’s Découvreurs school.

The Internet of things also simplifies the day-to-day for the establishments’ already overworked staff. For daycare services, the Amisgest solution automates attendance taking, for instance, and makes it easy to keep track of children’s schedules and create temporary groups at the end of the day. Plus, the tool facilitates the creation of reports on frequency of visits and arrival and departure stats.

The Amisgest Portes feature provides parents and employees with a mini RFID chip card giving them access to the facility. The tool facilitates management for the establishment, but more importantly, it ensures security, as authorization can be revoked at any time.

The pandemic has provided a greater understanding of the strengths and limits of technologies used in education. Now that the dust is starting to settle, it’s time to build upon this new-found knowledge to create a truly smart school.

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