Inside our ambitious project with the Department for Education to deliver high-speed internet to 99% of South Australia’s public schools in 18 months.
From inter-school collaboration to immersive learning experiences, technology has become a driving force for change in Australia’s schools – but inconsistent connectivity threatens to leave students behind.
The challenge facing South Australia
Scott Bayliss was shocked to discover that just one in five schools across the state had high-speed fiber connections, when he joined the South Australian Department for Education as Chief Information Officer in late 2017.
“I thought: that's not good enough,” recalls Scott. “My vision for internet connectivity in the public school system is a simple one: Every school, every teacher, every student should have access to fast, reliable internet at the speed they need it when they need it, regardless of location - no exceptions.”
“A student who was born in a far regional town and goes to school in that town should get exactly the same opportunities that a student who lives and goes to school in a greater metropolitan area,” says Scott.
In his tour of the state’s schools, Scott encountered teachers who battled for hours just to download videos for use in class the next day and IT managers who couldn’t backup vital data without slowing down classrooms.
“The infrastructure that we're deploying will absolutely set South Australia up for the next decade and beyond. What we're delivering in connectivity over the next 18 months will put South Australia to the forefront of education in Australia”
John Ieraci, Chief Customer Officer, Telstra Enterprise
“I saw a school with 20 kids using laptops, where only two of them could access the internet at any one time. That’s the driving force behind my vision for this project.”
Our ambitious rollout across the state
Working with Telstra, the SA Department for Education set out an ambitious plan to connect 99%, or more than 500, of the state’s schools to high-speed fiber optic cable, over an 18-month period.
The initial connections will provide up to and beyond 1GB, which will be up to 1,000 times faster for some schools. By delivering almost a megabit per student, the project isn’t designed to just meet the needs of today, but ensure South Australian schools are enabled to deliver 21st century learning.
Fast, reliable internet will give students access to a wealth of new collaborative tools, says John Leraci, Chief Customer Officer for Telstra Enterprise.
“As technology becomes a central part of the classroom, these connections will make education a lot more equitable. Whether you’re in the far north of South Australia or in central Adelaide, you’ll have access to the same opportunities,” says John.
“I see these connections as being particularly important in rural areas where the local demand for a language, or other specialty subjects might not be enough to justify a teaching resource. However, through the use of telecommuting, students can connect to existing classes and teachers in other locations.”
Improving student outcomes
At Glenelg Primary School, one of the first to be connected under the trial program, Principal Rae Taggart says its students and staff alike couldn’t be happier with the upgrade.
“Probably the biggest thing for the school has been for teachers, they can now have their whole class on the internet at the same time. Using laptops in their classroom, they know the system is reliable and not going to crash on them, or take ages loading,” she says.
“That might sound simple, but it’s really changed the pedagogy of our teachers.”
She says the difference can be felt across Glenelg’s curriculum, such as teachers integrating streaming video into classes, through to the technology-focused classes where students learn programming fundamentals by making robots move.
The difference has also been felt outside the classroom, with the new connections improving the school’s productivity on the admin side.
“We've had fantastic support from Telstra and the education department, really working with us to understand our needs and minimise the disruption involved. So it's been a very supportive process for us.”
Investing in South Australia’s future
As an added benefit, by rolling thousands of kilometres of new fiber optic cables, this project will make high-speed fibre optic connectivity available to many towns in regional South Australia for the first time.
“In upgrading the network, we'll actually be able to provide greater bandwidth to those regional communities, whether they be consumers watching a streaming service or a small business who previously only had access to copper-based services,” says John. “We'll actually be able to deliver greater benefits to all of the community, such as fire stations and hospitals, enabling video imaging and other vital technologies.”
“The infrastructure that we're deploying will absolutely set South Australia up for the next decade and beyond. What we're delivering in connectivity over the next 18 months will put South Australia to the forefront of education in Australia,” says John.