Update on QEF’s Overarching Digital Network

The dramatic impact on schools of the Covid19 lockdown, as well as the teething issues of launching QEF’s Overarching Digital (OA) network and server design has prompted Johan Bester and Stephan Coetzer, our IT Managers, to reassess our initial plans.

Research and Development

Ongoing research and re-design will always be part and parcel of our ensuring we have a robust, future proof network. But during the 1st phase of our OA Network deployment, we found bandwidth limitations between our schools and off site backup location to be a deterring factor in proceeding with the current Network roll-out plan. It has been challenging and exciting to reassess and totally redesign our network to stabilise it and fulfil our obligations to our subscriber schools.

Network Design

We are designing a modular system to ensure that we eliminate copying each school’s data as far as possible; rather moving it directly across to The Hub in the most cost efficient way possible. This should eliminate the challenges of transferring vast amounts of data through both the internet and intranet channels. We await the feedback from School Governing Bodies on our proposed Network upgrade.

Server Design

Experience has shown that finance servers and the Department of Basic Education’s SAM servers are vulnerable to hackers. Building a new Fin Server is therefore necessary. We have also secured the Bursars’ laptops of Stanford Lake College and Balmoral Girls’ Primary School by ensuring that logins happen directly through the dedicated Virtual Private Network (VPN).  The SAMS Server has been secured already for all schools, with the FIN server to follow.

Security

Privacy and security in a school environment is paramount. Staff and students need only see what they must. Bear in mind that we need to secure over a 1000 devices between our subscriber schools. We are therefore constantly evolving and eliminating the opportunity for security breaches to our Network.

During the Covid19 lockdown one of our schools got severely hacked to the extent that even our backup Google Drive was left encrypted.  In conclusion we now know that Google Drive is not sufficient as our schools’ primary backup solution. We have therefore re-designed our backup solution to eliminate threats. Most of the relevant equipment has been delivered and this new build will start today, June 15, 2020.

Training

With the need for teachers to deliver blended learning, many of our schools have opted for the Google Classroom platform.  We have been able to provided Girls’ High School, Balmoral Girls’ Primary School and Get Ahead Project Queenstown (soon to be trained) with training on how to use the platform for the exchange of files between teachers and learners.