It is extensively clear that the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent measures that every country undertook had a significant impact on both the public and private sectors, and the education sector has not been spared.
The second wave of the pandemic triggered a shift of normal learning in the education sector, from students going to school to students staying home and attending classes online.
The increasing traffic and data volume since the Ministry of Health’s announcement of the control measures has tripled compared to three years ago and is currently 50 per cent higher compared with 2021.
As the country’s telecommunication infrastructure provider, Unified National Networks (UNN) has since carried out a series of upgrades on its broadband network to address the increased traffic and data volume that occurred from everyone working and learning from home.
Besides capacity and network upgrades, UNN together with the telecommunication service providers – DST, imagine and Progresif have also been working with Ministry of Education (MOE) in partnership with Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) on an e-Education solution – a project that focuses on providing accessibility of learning tools for teachers to provide online classes and for students who come from socio-economically challenged families and are facing limitations to attend their online classes or e-Learning.
UNN and MOE recently inked a contract in the presence of the Minister of Education, deputy minister, permanent secretaries, and CEOs of Brunei’s service providers i.e. DST, imagine, Progresif, with an upcoming contract signing between MORA and UNN expected this month.
Under this project, the Brunei Telecommunication Industry will be providing access to the mobile network and enabling data and traffic related to specific educational websites or applications to be available to teachers and students.
In a common effort, DST, imagine, Progresif and UNN have acquired and provisioned 15,000 units of laptops and more than 1,700 mobile devices to be made available to the teachers and students as specified by the MOE and MORA.
The solution offers mobile network access, allowing users to peruse the devices provided in any location with mobile coverage to access the internet for specific educational purposes.
This will include document download and upload, access to learning content systems and participation in online classes via tools like MS Teams and Zoom. Of course, the laptops will also be able to utilise private WIFI access available in the location of use.
The solution for e-Learning not only consists of devices to access online content and classes.
Special provisions have been made in the network to provide specific traffic and e-Learning sources as defined by the ministries to the defined user group, to ensure the software on the laptops stay updated and security patches are installed accordingly.
CEO of UNN Dr Steffen Oehler in a statement said that telecommunication services are the backbone for the digital economy and an integral part of our work and daily lives.
“This has become more evident with the pandemic impacting and changing our way of work and how we process many things in our private sphere. Specifically important at such time is the continuation of education processes on all levels, to enable direct contact online between our teachers and the students and to focus on providing the same high-quality online classes as experienced in a physical classroom,” he said.
He added: “We are proud that we have been able to support this very important initiative of MOE and MORA in a very short time frame, specifying and integrating the solution, and rolling out the devices in
cooperation with all partners involved.”
DST, imagine and Progresif have issued SIM cards already and they are provisioned in the laptops and devices to be rolled out to students and teachers. The SIM cards in the laptops and dongles are equipped with 10GB of mobile data per month to ensure the teachers and students have sufficient data to carry out their e-Learning.
Data not utilised in that month will be rolled over to the next month and made available without limitations.
The data will be provisioned each month to all devices automatically and no user intervention will be required.
Apart from contributing the SIM cards and devices to MOE and MORA, DST had started a separate joint initiative with MOE back in September 2021 called EduPack Prihatin to help underprivileged students all around Brunei who have little to no access to technology and the internet for e-Learning.
Furthermore, with the help of DST subscribers and DST partners – Takaful Brunei Darussalam and Insurans Islam TAIB Holdings Sdn Bhd, DST has managed to collect 70,000GB of data for the EduPack Prihatin initiative in two months where 10GB per student are given for eLearning.
Similarly, imagine took proactive measures during Brunei’s first and second COVID-19 waves in support of e-Learning by supplying imagine Wish Prepaid SIM cards and data to over 300 identified students in collaboration with stakeholders from the government, non-government organisations, corporate partners, and members of the public through imagine’s A-Dollar-A-Cheer (ADAC) charity platform, where over $25,000 were collected to supply much needed mobile services to these students across the country.
On her part, CEO of imagine Suzannawati Haji Suharju said that as the country entered another phase of uncertainty under COVID-19, the company will continue to work with all stakeholders to assist those who need broadband and mobile services, or any other means of support.
“This industry-wide initiative is a national agenda. All of us in the telecommunications industry play a part in contributing to society and ensure parity to all students to access to both connectivity and laptops for the education,” she said.
Meanwhile, Progresif CEO Hajah Nurul Haniah said that in support of one of the company’s four Corporate Social Responsibility commitments, ‘Progress for Education’, they will continue to reinforce their dedication in sustaining these students’ education and provide equal education opportunities to all students across Brunei.
“Our contribution to the students and teachers will open doorways to a wealth of information, knowledge, and educational resources, increasing opportunities for learning and their freedom to do more beyond learning in the classroom,” she said.
Since its introduction of ‘Progresif for Schools’ CSR program – a Donate Data initiative in collaboration with MOE that was launched in February 2021, Progresif has collected nearly $58,000 worth of donations equating to 20,000GB of data to be used by nearly 2,000 students around the country.
Progresif also collaborated with Dynamik Technologies during the first COVID-19 wave to establish ‘The Goals for Education’ and together have raised a total of $51,000 through this campaign to support online learning programs and students who require ICT devices across the country.
The rollout of the laptops and dongles with the SIM cards under the e-Education solution project started in mid-February 2022 and is currently being distributed to more than 280 schools and allocated to teachers and students accordingly.
Today, more than 90 per cent of laptops have reached their users. The rollout will continue till the end of March 2022 with all 15,000 units of laptops and 1,700 mobile dongles (devices) expected to be distributed to the teachers and students.
The e-Education solution is an approach that MOE and MORA could address the specific needs in the education sector and build preparedness for the switch to remote or online learning. Whilst it is unclear how long the endemic phase in Brunei will continue and when normality will resume, the new reality of education is an area where UNN, DST, imagine and Progresif i.e., the Brunei Telecommunication Industry can focus on providing support towards e-Learning.
This article was first published on 12 March 2022 in our Weekly Epaper issue 184 | More stories here
THE BRUNEIAN | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN