An enhanced digital infrastructure to enable EdTech advancements


7th April 2021

Topic Education
Technology 5G, Wi-Fi
Sector Education

Education has become far more integrated with technology over recent years and as we navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, our reliance on technology for education has been hugely accelerated.

With teachers now delivering classes online in ‘digital classrooms’ and children log in to apps to upload their homework, EdTech is more crucial than ever to support learning across the UK.

With a commitment to supporting local schools, colleges, universities and other education providers across the city, Sunderland City Council ’s investment in technology and an enhanced digital infrastructure across Sunderland is enabling education technology or ‘EdTech’ that will not online remove barriers to learning, but will prepare the next generation for a digital future.

The digital divide

Learning from home during lockdown has been considered the ‘next best’ solution in the pandemic to ensure that children and young people across the country are still able to attend school – albeit virtually. Many teachers, students, parents and organisations were forced to adapt quickly to school closures which accompanied the first national lockdown in March 2020. This switch saw lessons go ‘digital’ and children learning from home, which presented many new challenges.

Overnight, the bulk of learning was now online with classes being taught via Zoom or Teams and online assignments proving pivotal. However, this shift both highlighted and exacerbated the barriers for learners being able to access learning resources.

For children in homes with no computers, or no connectivity, the pandemic has seen them ‘cut off’ from essential education. With restricted access to vital learning resources, as well as the social aspects and learning support usually provided by schooling, pupils could more easily fall behind and feel isolated from their peers. This ‘digital divide’ is a key area of development in our City Plan to ensure that nobody and nowhere is left behind, by the changes in education as well as other areas of life and work which rely increasingly heavily on reliable and fast connectivity.

Bridging the gap with access for all

Sunderland City Council has resolved to support teachers, pupils and their families for the remainder of the pandemic and beyond, by equipping people with all the tools they need to carry on learning. This has included:

  • Putting the infrastructure in place to ensure people have the opportunity to connect
  • Continuing work to make accessing next generation connectivity as affordable as possible to ensure inclusivity and accessibility
  • Ongoing collaboration with education providers, underpinned by an improved digital infrastructure, to pave the way to a varied, digitally enhanced curriculum for local learners
  • The recent announcement of a £62m investment by CityFibre represents numerous benefits to educational establishments across the city. With increased opportunity to access gigabit-capable full fibre connectivity, this signifies a huge benefit for teachers, pupils and parents alike

We are committed to working collaboratively to provide dynamic solutions for children to underpin the continuation of learning in these difficult times. While teaching staff, pupils and parents will still face challenges with supporting learners and new found independent learning approaches, closing the gap within the digital divide will be a huge help to ensure that our young people still have access to education.

Combined with initiatives to also improve digital literacy such as the ‘Go! Get Online’ project, this will support our local education establishments to continue teaching whether that is online or in person with a growing list of resources within their reach.

Key achievements to date in support of EdTech

Guided by our City Plan, the Smart City team and wider council colleagues and partners, have already begun rolling out solutions across the city to underpin and enable EdTech usage and opportunities.

For Hudson Road Primary School, the provision of superfast 5G Wi-Fi connectivity for their 280 pupils, teaching staff and parents meant they could access a proven download speed of 660Mbps, access livestreaming and video conferencing apps like Zoom and Skype as well as use multimedia content with greater ease.

Local Further and Higher Education provider, Sunderland College, announced a £3 million investment for 2021 to create an innovative 360 degree ‘virtualisation dome’ which will support pupils via augmented reality learning for newly introduced T Levels. This impressive digitally-equipped enhancement was hailed as a “game changer for our college and most importantly for young people and employers from across our region” by Chief Executive of Education Partnership North East, Ellen Thinnesen.

Creating digital leaders for the next generation

At the core of Sunderland’s City Plan for the future, is a desire to create digital leaders within our region by allowing them to develop their skills from a young age. For education technology in particular, the funding and support provided will significantly influence our digital leaders of the future, helping them build upon their digital literacy and knowledge.

As the world around us and the roles within in it become significantly more digital in nature, we are already helping to shape and prepare the next generation for successful navigation of a more digital world.

Patrick Melia, Chief Executive at Sunderland City Council, said: “Our City Plan is driving innovation forward in all fields, but a particular focus is in EdTech as we recognise the benefits this will bring to the next generation of digital leaders.”

Patrick added: “Improving connectivity in schools is a vital part to ensure families can remain connected to their children’s learning as well as engaging in opportunities themselves.”

While we hope that national lockdowns and school closures will soon become a thing of the past, it is clear that technology will continue to play a key role in education and learning into the future. Across our smart city of Sunderland, we are not only solving today’s challenges, but preparing our next generation for a brighter, digitally connected future.