How NZ schools are tapping managed network services

Using managed network services has freed up time and resources for New Zealand school teachers and alleviated the pressure and challenges of maintaining technology infrastructure

With the growing prevalence of digital learning inside and outside New Zealand classrooms, it is no longer tenable for local schools to manage their own networks while providing a safe online learning environment for students.

Since 2013, New Zealand’s Ministry of Education has been working with Network for Learning (N4L) to deliver a managed network service for schools under the Te Mana Tūhono programme. All state schools are now connected to network, with over 825,000 students and teachers using it every day, consuming more than 5.2 million gigabytes of data monthly, and when the programme ends in 2024, more than 860,000 users will be managed by the infrastructure that N4L has designed and installed, making it the single largest distributed and managed Wi-Fi network in New Zealand.

N4L’s managed network infrastructure for New Zealand schools includes CommScope’s Wi-Fi 6 technology, which allows more student devices to connect to the school’s internet and stream content simultaneously, without impacting speed or reliability.

The hardware automatically connects to N4L’s managed services, enabling the company to provide greater support to schools, such as identifying and resolving problems before users are aware of them and troubleshooting many issues remotely.

This has freed up time and resources for busy teaching staff to focus on student learning, alleviating some of the pressure and challenges of maintaining their technology infrastructure.

“N4L’s extensive managed services is built on a robust foundation of infrastructure, supported by CommScope’s Wi-Fi 6 technology, which will allow teachers and students to access uninterrupted, reliable and fast connectivity for online, cloud-based applications that are essential to today’s dynamic classroom environments,” said Sanjiv Verma, vice-president for Ruckus Networks at CommScope Asia-Pacific. “This includes providing the capacity and speed for schools to elevate learning experiences with collaboration tools such as Google Suite, Microsoft Office 365 and even video streaming, which is a growing trend we are seeing across the region.

“In addition, CommScope’s technology helps to provide a more secure Wi-Fi experience and ease of access for everyone. The partnership with N4L has demonstrated the importance of laying the groundwork to build efficient school networks for tomorrow’s digital education,” Verma added.

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Each of New Zealand’s 2,500-plus schools is self-governing and differs in terms of size, location, technology use, network complexity, and its access to technology support.

Against this backdrop, Gavin Costello, chief information security officer at N4L, said the challenge was to design safe and secure networks, install and manage them, and provide ongoing maintenance and support in a way that caters to the needs of every single one of these schools.

“It’s a massive job, described as the largest technology rollout of its kind in New Zealand,” he added.

Costello said N4L’s partner network has been instrumental to overcoming these challenges, combined with the school-specific knowledge N4L has gained from eight years of providing managed network services for New Zealand schools.

“We have formed an alliance of over 30 partners, suppliers, installers, local technology support companies, overseen by a governance board formed with the Ministry of Education to manage any challenges as they arise,” he added.

As internet usage surges across New Zealand schools, with a 32% jump in data consumption recorded between the first and second halves of 2020, the number of cyber threats that students were exposed to had also increased.

According to the N4L’s Te Pūrongo Whakakitenga data and insights report, nearly 1,600 online threats were blocked every minute across N4L’s network and more than half of these took place at secondary schools. The most common were related to malware and malicious websites, with each school blocking an average of 500 of these every day.

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