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School turns to BYOD as government laptop program ends

The end of the laptops in schools program in Australian schools could see schools turn en masse to BYOD programs to fill the gap in funding for student tablets and laptop PCs.
Written by Tim Lohman, Contributor

The cessation of the previous Australian government's laptops in schools program is likely to see the mass adoption of bring your own device (BYOD) programs by schools as they seek to shift the cost of purchasing and maintaining iPads and laptop PCs from the government to parents.

One school, Georges River Grammar School, has already begun a BYOD program for its 2014 students following confirmation by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) in May that the laptops in schools project would be discontinued at the end of this year.

The school has just completed a major upgrade of its wired and wireless network in order to be able to support an anticipated influx of BYOD devices, as well as better enforced BYOD policies.

Its new wired network features HP switches with two 10Gbps links and redundant core switches. The previous network was also based on HP switches, and featured a 1Gbps backbone.

The new wireless network is also based on HP gear, and features 66 access points serving every room at the school, and four access points serving external sites. It also features 11 VLANs, allowing it greater control over network access and security. Previously, it ran a Meru wireless system with one access point to cover about four rooms.

The result is an increase in connectivity speeds of around 20 times, as well as a range of new capabilities to help enforce and manage the policy supporting the school's new BYOD program. The school has also adopted the vendor's Intelligent Management Center platform to help it more quickly troubleshoot and manage its network.

Speaking to ZDNet, Georges River IT network manager Matthew Gebran said the major driver for the upgrade was the push toward a 1:1 student-to-device ratio, and the need for a BYOD program following the end of the government's laptops in schools program.

"To support the sheer number of devices that will come onto our network next year, we had no choice but to upgrade the whole network infrastructure that we have here," he said.

"The [device] funding for schools has dried up now, and all those machines we had for years 9 to 12 are all out of warranty, and the three years [of funding] is up. The school doesn't have the money to re-buy new devices — and students are used to having their own devices now — so [a BYOD approach] is the only way to go without the school having to fork out too much money."

Gebran said that while the new approach would save the school money, it does pose management challenges for its two-strong IT department. The school is addressing that by using its network firewalls and switches, rather than a mobile device management solution, which would have required installing clients on each student's BYOD device and the purchasing of multiple licences.

"We went down the path of having a wireless network for BYOD devices," he said. "When they connect to that, they are prompted for a user name and password ... which authenticates them against certain polices in the firewall and web filter so that they can only get to certain things — their surfing is restricted.

"Our HP core switches have access control, which if someone is on our VLAN means that people can only get to the certain things we allow them to; otherwise, they just go straight out to the internet."

Commenting on additional IT initiatives under way at the school, Gebran said that about 20 Apple TVs are being rolled out to allow better student and teacher collaboration, as well as wireless printing for iOS7 devices. The school also uses the Moodle e-learning solution and ClickView Online to access educational content.

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