The internet has opened up a whole new way of teaching. But with nasty stuff around every corner, how do we keep our kids safe? Children today live in a world where they can find just about anything online in a matter of seconds. And while that presents exciting opportunities for learning, it also places extra pressure on schools to keep their students safe. John Western, Principal at Seatoun School explains, “We have a duty of care to make sure the experience is as safe as possible for our learners. That means we need confidence that they won’t inadvertently go to the wrong place or see the wrong thing.”
This is where Network for Learning (N4L) comes in. As a Crown-owned company, it’s their job to connect New Zealand’s schools to fast, safe and reliable internet. And with online threats and cybercrime on the rise, they recently completed a nationwide upgrade of the government-funded Managed Network, which connects 2,450-plus schools across the country.
The upgrade sees each school equipped with a new combined router, firewall and internet filtering solution. And on a typical day, these will block more than 3.3 million attempts to view inappropriate content, including pornography, political extremism and self harm. On top of this, N4L also stops 2.7 million malicious internet threats each day, plus 83,000 attempts to infiltrate our schools’ internet systems.
These numbers aren’t lost on N4L CEO, Larrie Moore. “Running the country’s largest Managed Network, with more than 825,000 students and teachers using our services every day, comes with enormous responsibility.” It’s a responsibility that’s paying off though, with positive feedback coming in from all corners of the country. Robert Gilbert, Deputy Principal at Tauranga Boys College, says, “When kids are going out on the internet, we want to know that they’re safe. We have to be confident that our students aren’t accessing things they shouldn’t be. And that’s what the new upgrade has done for us.”
The upgrade helps teachers get on with what they do best — teaching. The technology is essentially invisible, and is centrally managed by N4L. “It just operates in the background and doesn’t require me to do anything new.” says Rhian Elmes, Head of Arts Faculty at Tauranga Boys College. “My focus is then on what I’m doing in the classroom — what’s being taught — and not on the actual infrastructure of the IT.”
Of course, an undertaking like this doesn’t just happen by magic. N4L brings together top local and international technology providers, including Spark and Fortinet, with the latter providing the advanced cybersecurity solutions working to keep the dark side of the internet at bay. And as Fortinet Client Director, Nick Frantzen, explains, it’s more than just a job for them: “the majority of our staff have school-aged children, so this is an effort close to all of our hearts.”
Both Frantzen and Moore were quick to stress the importance of continual innovation in this space. “The tools we provide address today’s issues, but also allow for protection against future threats”, says Frantzen. Moore agrees, saying “It’s essential we stay alert not only to how students and teachers are using the internet, but also to industry developments that allow the delivery of the best and safest connectivity solutions for education.”
Wi-Fi connectivity is one of those things taken for granted, so long as it works as it should. Like water from the tap or electricity from the socket, it’s just not something which requires any thought. Which is why, for Wellington’s Onslow College, replacing a poorly performing Wi-Fi network delivered a dramatic improvement at the school.
Onslow College IT Support person Josh Miller says connectivity at school is crucial. “We’re moving all our data into the cloud and this sums up the importance of being online. If you lose the connection, you can’t work. And even if you have your data internally, if the network is down, it impacts on how we teach.”
Onslow College is a coeducational state secondary school in the Wellington suburb of Johnsonville. Through a quirk of administration, the school found itself with two disparate Wi-Fi systems, neither of which provided complete coverage of the grounds, says Miller.
“They coexisted reasonably well, but it was far from ideal. When you’ve got a staff complement of 120 and over 1300 students, each with their own laptop or access to school devices, dropped connections meant endless frustration. You’d have to reauthenticate to the Wi-Fi and to the firewall, so it was a real pain point and this seriously impacted on the teaching and learning”.
Should a teacher's connection go down, lessons were interrupted as material stored on cloud drives was no longer accessible. “They’d get highly annoyed,” he confides. “Unsurprisingly, too. After all, without that connectivity, their mission of educating grinds to a halt. As far as teachers are concerned– it doesn’t matter what caused the interruption, only that it’s off.”
He says he was interested to learn from a trusted source that Fortinet provides Wi-Fi networking as well as security solutions. “we knew they had firewall solutions, but we were unaware that they had a wireless offering. Our source heartily recommended Fortinet, so we went with it.”
It wasn’t so much the Wi-Fi equipment which impressed Miller the most, but the installation. “The implementation team was outstanding. They painstakingly configured our system in the least disruptive way for a changeover.”
“This was not a ‘deploy and walk away’ situation like we’d previously experienced. The team made sure we understood the configuration and were comfortable with the management interface. And even months later, we feel looked after, with regular checks on how things are going,” Miller notes.
Good connectivity, Miller says, should be completely invisible and that’s how it is for Onslow College today. “Thanks to Fortinet, we’ve moved away from regular complaints about Wi-Fi. Now we rarely touch the system; students are getting on with learning, and teachers are getting on with teaching.”
Southern Institute of Technology in New Zealand initially deployed FortiGates as primary firewalls. Several years later, they have expanded their use of Fortinet products so that they are now protected by us across their whole network of 5 campuses.