From the book to the tablet, the forced digitization of the education system

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The pandemic closed schools, which went from classrooms to Zoom and Teams almost in the blink of an eye although unsolved tasks persist

Did the Spanish educational system pass last school year? As in the old grades they gave in school, Spanish education closed 2020 with an SL (needs improvement). If digitization turned the world of work upside down, the educational world experienced a real earthquake from which it is still trying to recover this academic year.

In the middle of March last year, young people had to leave the classrooms and park their books to exchange them for computers. Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom were some of the tools that helped to continue with the classes. The search engine giant opened its educational tool in 2014, which allows you to manage distance learning.

In this platform, students can access from different devices facilitating access regardless of place or time. In turn, teachers can include different attached multimedia resources, whether they are YouTube videos, links to other web pages or Drive documents. Among universities, Moodle is the preferred platform. A significant number of higher education centers make use of this collaborative system where students and teachers actively participate in the process.

However, many teachers ended up opting for the mythical cards to continue with the educational tasks, which were supervised through photos exchanged by email or even by WhatsApp. According to the latest data from the INE, nine out of ten Spanish households have internet access; in the case of households with children, this percentage reaches 97%.

However, if we look at the lowest income bracket (less than 900 euros per month), 9.2% of households with children cannot enter the Internet, which means that nearly 100,000 households cannot connect. Against this, only 0.4% of households with higher incomes (more than 3,000 euros per month) do not have internet.

According to a study by the High Commissioner for Combating Child Poverty, one in five children in the first income quartile lives in a home without a computer (20%), compared to 0.9% in the fourth quartile, that is, the lack of access to a computer is almost 20 times higher in the poorest households.

Furthermore, in the lowest income quartile, less than half of households with boys and girls (48%) have access to a tablet. According to the INE, all households that report having a tablet also have a computer, so it seems that this device is still complementary.

Despite counting, in most cases, with the necessary tools for the digitization of education, experts point out that the objective is not to recreate the classroom in digital, but that the most appropriate thing is to provide students with temporary access to educators, their lessons, and school resources quickly and safely.

But the pandemic challenge that came as a surprise last year showed that the Spanish education system was not prepared. The Administration (neither the central nor the autonomic ones) were not, nor were the centers, the teaching staff and the students. Presence in the classroom allows regular access to information, together with privacy and security in access to educational content, which are not easy to replace.

Rapid digitization without a prior plan made the use of personal technology devices the perfect vehicle to access classes. Laptops, desktops, ‘tablets’ or ‘smartphones’ that, due to their domestic use, lack cybersecurity solutions adapted to the school environment and, therefore, allow ‘hackers’ to easily exploit their vulnerabilities

Cyber ​​risk factor

The human factor itself adds an additional layer of cyber risk to remote learning. In fact, partners are very likely to share devices and passwords, click a link in a phishing email, or download rogue and dangerous apps.

Awareness is therefore a basic element. It is key to train users on the proper methods of password protection, how to apply patches to devices, how to download applications or how to act, for example, against ‘phishing’.

The European Commission has launched the Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) with the aim of “adapting education and training to the digital age”. However, the work in Brussels, which has been doing this since 2020, will try to launch a strategic dialogue with the EU Member States to prepare a proposal for a Recommendation on the factors that will make digital education possible by 2022.

Cybersecurity, the pending subject

In 2020, the failures in the cybersecurity systems of educational organizations were also exposed, which have yet to reinforce their systems to prevent this type of attack and make the necessary investments to guarantee data privacy. In addition, to ensure the availability of the ‘online’ education platform, they must protect the tools they use, such as virtual private networks (VPN), promoting cloud environments that facilitate agility, also guaranteeing safe management and storage of teaching materials.

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