Helping Schools Switch to Secure Online Learning

Octavio Hernandez

Technology has made education accessible to millions of people to-date, but in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic, it needs to do more. It needs to bring learning opportunities to children who have to stay at home. Education needs to break the barriers of social distancing and bring secure online education to teachers and children everywhere.

The reality of implementing such a model during a pandemic is complex. It requires close collaboration between network operators, online platforms, course providers, teachers and support personnel at schools.

UNESCO reports that some of the key takeaways from China’s response to this challenge included:

  • Mobilizing all major telecom service providers to boost internet connectivity service for online education, especially for the under-served regions.
  • Upgrade the bandwidth of major online education service platforms.
  • Mobilize society-wide resources for the provision of online courses.
  • Adopting flexible methodologies to facilitate learning including the choice of delivery modes for teachers such as online streaming, online platforms, digital TV and learning apps.
  • Strengthen online security through collaboration with the telecom sector and online platform service providers.

Connectivity

Not every home has access to broadband services, but cellular connectivity is here to fill the gap. If the aim is to bring learning opportunities to all students regardless of where they are, a mobile-first approach is the answer. We have seen mobile operators around the world donate smartphones and tablets to charities, communities and the elderly to keep them connected with their loved ones. In most cases, the offer also comes with a generous data allowance to enable the service. The addition of the education use case to this scenario is a no-brainer. In the US, AT&T and Asavie are collaborating to help children in K12 schools gain access to online learning during COVD19 through mobile devices secured from the network up.

Mobile devices provide a quick and simple solution to bring education into the living room of children everywhere. They are compact and easy to distribute. There’s no need for engineers to carry out installation work and the service is immediately available. Schools can pre-loads devices with productivity tools or use them as Wi-Fi hotspots to allow students to work on their own laptops for a  better user experience (i.e. have you ever tried to write a 500 word essay on an iPhone? Me neither).

Compliance

Thus far we’ve solved the problem of educational inclusion, fast deployment of a solution, access to educational tools and we have removed technical complexity from the process. So, we’re good to go, right? Not quite. The final piece of the puzzle relies on the most fragile link in the chain: people. Schools need to ensure that mobile devices are used for the purposes they were intended. They need to protect children using the school’s network and devices from harmful content in compliance to  the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Finally, they need to ensure that students are protected from opportunistic hackers and malware.

Online risks

We have seen an explosion in phishing and malware attacks that prey on people’s need for information about the virus. Researchers have recently discovered a malware campaign they named “Vicious Panda”. This campaign uses two RTF (Rich Text Format) files that, once opened, execute a unique remote access trojan (RAT). The trojan takes screenshots of the device, downloads files, and develops a list of files and directories. The emails allege to be from government departments and claim to contain important information about the COVID-19 virus.

Online security

How do we solve this problem? Asavie provides a network-based security and control service through all our mobile operator partners. The service can be deployed immediately without any additional burden to schools’ IT resources. It is a comprehensive security service that proactively protects teachers and students against phishing and malware. The usage policies can be pre-configured to ensure compliance with CIPA. It is flexible enough that administrators can create or edit policies to allow access to the specific tools used by their school like online classrooms while blocking access to data hungry services like Netflix, Spotify or Hulu.

We are in this together and it’s evident in this example. By working in close collaboration with government, network operators and technology providers, we can all make a positive impact on our communities and and the learning experience of children.