Cloud-First Devices – A recommendation for the National Recovery Plan (Krajowy Plan Odbudowy)
Author: EdTech Foundation (Rafal Lew-Starowicz)
We find ourselves in a historic moment for education in Poland. With funds from the National Plan for Reconstruction and Increasing Resilience (KPO), the government will be able to fuel the digital transformation of schools by purchasing devices for teachers and students and by investing in school IT infrastructure. This unprecedented investment can do one of two things: fuel/support reforms that will take Polish schools into a new stage, thus increasing the Return on Investment (ROI) for education; OR prolong the status-quo, with its respective mediocre results.
The time has come for us to change the education paradigm if we want our demanding and ever so diverse student population to be prepared for the jobs of the future. We need to create a healthy learning ecosystem where the learner takes a center-stage and thrives in any educational environment. A learning ecosystem is when the connective tissue of technology is put into the hands of learners, they can access much more than traditional schooling. To have a really healthy learning ecosystem, we need:
● Learner Centered and future focused vision for education
● Equitable & accessible learning opportunities
● Diverse, expert & flourishing workforce
● Flexible, safe and data rich digital systems
● Quality & sustainable physical infrastructure
● Standards informed & flexible learning pathways and curriculum
● Multiple, trusted forms of accreditation.
A learning ecosystem that revolves around equity and access; provides opportunities for learning anywhere anytime; supports agency and learning growth; keeps in mind the health & wellbeing of learners; and incorporates data & privacy considerations.
The key elements of the education system of the future are: Innovation, cloud, AI, adaptive. In order to get that, you need connectivity, devices, platform, pedagogy and capacity building. We need to work with partners that add value to our educational ecosystem in terms of future ready IT infrastructure, teacher training and certification paths designed to improve learners’ and educators' digital literacy.
The KPO - An Opportunity to Rethink Education
The National Plan for Reconstruction and Increasing Resilience (KPO) is a program that consists of 54 investments and 48 reforms. Poland will receive PLN 158.5 billion, including PLN 106.9 billion in the form of subsidies and PLN 51.6 billion in the form of preferential loans.
In line with the EU's goals, a significant part of the budget will be allocated to digital transformation (20.85%)1. This is an opportunity for Poland in this educational sector to develop. Among other projects financed by the KPO there are two that can permanently change the access to a wide range of education apps and services, making digital transformation more real. Investments in devices for teachers and students as well as IT infrastructure in schools will fill the gaps and help change the teachers work space into the right one, giving the same opportunities that any other public servant or office worker.
The KPO is intended to fund reforms and sector-wide transformation. Having discussed this project with multiple stakeholders across the Education Ecosystem in Poland, we can sum up the most critical questions pertaining to the KPO’s implementation:
- Will we use these funds to do what we’ve been doing for the past few decades, namely fund schools to purchase equipment ad-hoc without proper guidance or training, and without developing a digital ecosystem and a systemic management process? Or will we use this unprecedented amount of funding to drive a purposeful digital education transformation program that encourages and supports innovative approaches to teaching and learning?
- Are we interested in continuing the traditional educational paradigm, or are we interested in exploring whole new approaches to teaching and learning? - Will the Ministry of Education (MEIN) use this opportunity to lead the country into the modern era, inspired by countries around the world that have for years been pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with the use of technology in the classrooms?
Based on multiple discussions with the government and its supervised institutions, as well as looking at the recommendations of the procurement office, ZIPSEE, PIIT, IBE, and others, we can infer with confidence that there is a lack of strong conclusion that we need the cloud first approach as an answer to the need are already identified and diagnosed.
As an organization that brings together practitioners, innovators, distributors and developers, we strongly believe that the cloud-first approach is the most impactful way to achieve the goal described and adopted in the KPO (component C), namely:
● constant increase in the level of digital competencies by ensuring everyone in Poland the possibility of their development according to their needs;
● introducing standards for equipping schools with digital infrastructure;
● enabling the use of Equal digital tools in each school helping in leveling the playing field education of students all over Poland;
● standardizing the equipment, and thus reducing costs incurred by individual schools.
Cloud First Approach
What Exactly Is the Cloud-First Approach & What Are Its Benefits?
“Cloud-first” refers to content, applications, and platforms that are born and live in the cloud.
The term marks an almost decade-long transformation to shifting work to cloud-supported platforms - a tendency that has transformed both giants like Google and Microsoft, but also an array of device providers2. Lenovo, Acer, Asus, DELL, and others have created new generations of devices that work entirely in the cloud. Cloud technology provides an affordable option to host infrastructure – especially for enterprises or institutions outside of major cities. They can pay less for physical space, power, or cooling, while they operate more flexibly with support from cloud service providers3.
The global shift to cloud-based work makes remote working and studying possible; provides the basis of any hybrid model of learning; encourages flexibility and innovation; and increases independence, efficiency, and security.
The cloud means access to files and computing power of the computer in a remote way. The mass memory in the cloud is integrated with the operating system, i.e. it does not require the installation of any programs, visiting the addresses of websites to send files or access them. Devices based on the cloud do not require high technical parameters of the processor or memory, making them cheaper, which allows you to buy much more devices or equip them with elements supporting teaching, such as a touch screen and a stylus, or protecting investments such as reinforced Housing and/or keyboard resistant to flooding.
Cloud computing based on technically mature solutions is an attractive alternative to deployment dedicated IT systems. This allows to significantly reduce costs both in terms of hardware and software, as well as related indirect costs with the amount of work necessary to run and administer the system. Development of the internet network in all schools in Poland ensuring reliable communication with high parameters utility4.
When performing advanced calculations or analysis requiring high computing power, we use the cloud space, which is currently a global standard. This is one of the reasons why a cloud-based device system does not necessarily need the same computing power as a computer that requires the installation and starting programs on a device.
Storing files in the cloud, not locally, has two main advantages. First, files are safer than stored locally. Secondly, access to files can be obtained from other devices (e.g. phone, tablet or other computer), from anywhere. By storing files locally on the computer when the data file is damaged or the computer is stolen/lost then the documents will be permanently lost. Saving files in the cloud deletes this problem to documents saved in the cloud, you always have access, regardless of the place you log in or the computer you use.
Devices based on browser applications are currently the most modern computers, which, in the perspective of the purchase for the next few years, presents this equipment purchase in a more perspective way. The largest software producers in the world are currently focusing on cloud computing, not on providing clients with programs that should be installed locally, administered and constantly updated to newer versions. Moreover, less locally installed software also means fewer problems with such software on the shoulders of the local IT administrator in the school and greater reliability of tools supporting digital education.
Overall, the idea of the cloud-first approach in education is to prepare students for the skills of the future and to increase employability. In this scenario, every user engages with collaborative applications in the cloud. It is publicly known that the main providers of productivity suites are Google and Microsoft. The collective usage of those is in the billions. Based on the widespread use of productivity suites, we can derive that student applications going forward should be web-based.
The benefits of cloud-first devices include:
● All learners are supported to reach their full potential;
● All learners are supported to have appropriate and equal access to digital technologies, in particular individuals at risk of educational disadvantage and those with additional learning needs;
● The use of digital technology becomes as much a core part of the education journey as basic literacy and numeracy skills are, with deliberate and increased use of digital technology in teaching, learning and assessment.
One of the main benefits of cloud-first devices is easy and efficient device management. This is critical when you have hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of devices that need to be serviced and managed. We all know what happens when that many devices are usually distributed to schools – it is impossible to know what happens to them and if they are used. Cloud-first devices have specific licensing that allows administrators to get data on the usage of devices, thus making sure the investment is not going in vain, or identifying the barriers to usage. So, in any new purchase of devices for education, we need to position device management as a necessary element of the framework and specification.
Cloud-first devices are also highly competitive in terms of cost per device and cost over a lifetime, which is usually a fraction of the cost of high specification devices. Given our government’s limited budget and a commitment to buy 1.2 million devices within this academic year, there’s no option other than going with a cloud-first specification. After getting 1.2M devices, Poland will be able to meet in 1:3 model, why not go with cloud-first device approach and land closer to 1:1 model - as is the case in more mature educational systems.
Implications for Poland
There are direct implications for a device strategy in Poland deriving from the multiple benefits of the cloud-first approach. There is an obvious need to transition to cloud-first devices, whether they be tablets, Windows devices, Chromebooks, or other. The current public sector specifications are not suitable for education and need to be changed. If the past two years of a pandemic have taught us anything, it is that the educational space needs to be adaptive, efficient, safe, and accessible anywhere anytime.
For example, the UK government introduced a ‘Cloud First’ policy approach5 as early as 2013 for all technology decisions. When procuring new or existing services, public sector organizations including education should consider and fully evaluate potential cloud solutions first before considering any other option. This approach is mandatory and strongly recommended to the wider public sector. Departments remain free to choose an alternative to the cloud but will need to demonstrate that it offers better value for money. Managing Public Money defines ‘value for money’ as ‘securing the best mix of quality and effectiveness for the least outlay over the period of the use of the goods or services bought’. As part of the support process, the institution helps education assure the mix of quality and effectiveness of cloud services across their whole life cost (this includes capital, maintenance, management and operating).
In Poland, despite their different stages of technological sophistication, many schools still struggle to support teachers, as their current devices are clogged down with unnecessary features, lack proper maintenance, or are too slow to restart and execute key functions. The situation is quite embarrassing in some places. Because of their multiple responsibilities, teachers would prefer to not be in charge of technical maintenance, wasting time for loading software or solving network problems, which most are neither trained nor capable of doing.
Project OSE (Ogólnopolska Sieć Edukacyjna), as well as other interventions at the local and national level during and just before the Covid-19 pandemic, have not made it possible to work in the 1: 1 model as far as equipment and access to the internet are concerned. Unfortunately, bringing the Internet to the school building did not automatically entail investments in computers and intra-school networks on behalf of local governments. Anyway, investments in new servers, devices, software and their maintenance, according to loose estimates, would significantly exceed the cost of investments made in bringing the Internet to school. That is why cloud-based solutions are critically important going forward.
It is fair to note that, over the past twenty years, Polish schools have been equipped with a variety of devices and digital laboratories. During this period, the school infrastructure, as well as the software used, was repeatedly modernized, extended and expanded in functionality. An additional stimulus for such investment was the transition to the online teaching mode related to the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.
Along with expanding school infrastructure, the first threats to cyber security have surfaced, as so has the need to maintain appropriate requirements related to data protection, user identity, devices and applications. Another important element is to ensure raising qualifications, developing knowledge and skills of teachers and students.
The current system of using devices is in the 1: 9 model (1 computer for 9 students). To get closer to the 1: 1 model (used by countries at the forefront in education), the only right solution is to buy devices based on action in a close-working mode with the cloud and fully using its potential (Cloud-First devices). This mode gives a number of possibilities that we will not get using older technology computers.
Our experience shows when schools put cloud-first devices in the teachers’ hands, they became their chosen devices. The security and simplicity of these devices is a preferred option among Polish teachers, once they benefit from the efficiency of these devices.
What Are Other Countries Doing?
There are excellent examples around the world of governments successfully shifting the education paradigm in the face of a looming crisis. Back in 2019, Japan had set out to digitize the educational environment and develop a “cloud by default” 1:1 environment at schools where each student would have a device. The national government allocated $4B supplemental funds and rebuilt digital system policies. During this period they purchased 10 million devices, and transitioned from a very traditional pedagogy to cloud as default and project-based learning (PBL).
The effects of this transformation in Japan have been astonishing. A 2021 research paper evaluated the positive impact of PBL and cloud-first6in Japan on students’ construction of knowledge, deep thinking, and retaining ideas through a discussion process. Cloud-first devices were widely recognized as the go-to solution. For example, for its most recent PISA testing, Japan selected Chromebooks as their testing devices.
The UK Government has created a strategy based on the cloud, whereby all applications, devices, and solutions are required to be cloud-based. In 2013 they started the creation of the Government Cloud First policy. All educational institutions used the time of the pandemic to move to digital solutions that radically change the way classes are conducted, enabling them to be more effective. Cloud-first devices have been their first choice over the past years.
Other countries have also followed suit. The Irish educational strategy points out that the lack of access to digital devices is a barrier to digital learning and indeed to pupil engagement. Another suggestion was appropriate device ratios for students and teachers to ensure both have access to all the digital resources they need. Teachers and students need to have access to high-quality equipment and infrastructure with the necessary training to ensure the use of digital technologies is embedded across teaching, learning and assessment (In a survey conducted by the ASTI in May 2020, 61% of teachers had been provided with a school laptop). Secondly, there was a view that increasing security awareness in schools is needed especially around network security, Wi-Fi networks, ransomware avoidance and mobile device management.
As the Irish government has clearly pointed out, “Implementation of a ‘cloud-based’ approach for central ICT systems, applications, services, and infrastructure, including human resource management, case management and finance systems is a must. Maximizing cloud usage will deliver technological and cost benefits for schools, as well as ensuring pupils can benefit from new cloud-based educational programmes.”
So the question before us is: is Poland looking forward into the future of education, or keeping its head down? Are we going to be in the forefront of educational innovation or remain oblivious to where the world is going? If we want to stay relevant, we need to begin to shift to a cloud first approach in education.
Recommendations Going Forward
The adoption of digital technologies in all teaching, learning and assessment activities is a key enabler to facilitate equity of opportunity in education and to ensure that all students are supported to realize their potential and throughout their schooling, develop the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate safely and productively in a digital world.
As we look at the best practices from around the world, and take into consideration future labor market needs and the demands on the Polish education system, here is what the Polish government can do right now:
● Invest in a Cloud-based platform ZPE.gov.pl, which extends the Cloud-First concept to schools and classrooms;
● Revise public procurement device specifications to include and recommend Cloud-First options for education use-cases;
● Make Cloud-First the official policy of the Ministry of Education and allocate KPO funding only for devices that are suited to this policy.
4 Cloud computing. Przetwarzanie w chmurach, Szpor G. (red.), Bianco G., Dobrzeniecki K., Fisher B, Lew-Starowicz R. i inni, Wyd. C.H. Beck, Warszawa 2013, s.3
6“Designing Project-Based Learning to Promote the Social Construction of Knowledge by Overcoming Dissonance Using G Suite”. Information and Technology in Education and Learning (2021), Vol. 1, No. 1. Available at: https://doi.org/10.12937/itel.1.1.Pra.p001.