Towards seamless working from home and e-learning

Danial Norjidi

As Brunei is currently facing a second wave of COVID-19, working from home (WFH) and distance learning have been adopted as responses to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and protect the country’s population.

The Ministry of Education (MoE), Ministry of Transport and Infocommunications (MTIC), Authority for Info-communications Technology Industry of Brunei Darussalam (AITI) and Unified National Networks (UNN) recently issued a joint press statement, touching on Wi-Fi performance as well as collaborative efforts to promote seamless WFH and e-learning.

The statement noted that WFH and distance learning were introduced during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country last year. As Brunei is currently facing the second COVID-19 wave, some parents, teachers and students once again found themselves working and learning at the comfort of their home.

In 2019, only 50 per cent of all households were connected to the broadband network at home, it was shared.

“With the telecommunication industry transformation, many initiatives have been rolled out to extend the fibre network and make the broadband services more affordable, which were well perceived by the population.”

HOME BROADBAND CONNECTION

According to the statement, as of September 2021, three out of four households have a broadband connection at home, with the majority choosing 50 or 100Mbit speed. Through such home broadband connection, all household members have access to the Internet be it via smartphones, tablets or laptops.

“With the home broadband connection, students can attend their virtual classrooms; parents can work from home and contact colleagues via audio and video conferences; and family members can connect via popular messenger applications and enjoy digital entertainment.

“A significant increase in traffic has taken place in the broadband network over the time, spiking after August 7, 2021.

“The new peak traffic, previously indicated as most significant during the evening time, is now presented during the day too. And that is expected, as the traffic previously running in the networks of the organisation in the offices is created in the broadband network at home.”

For a household with five persons staying at home, it was shared that very often 10 and more devices are connected to the broadband Wi-Fi at the same time – smartphones in addition to the tablets and PCs, gaming consoles and Smart TVs or TV boxes, IP cams.

“This means they are all competing for the same bandwidth as the line speed of broadband connection is shared between these devices. This can lead to a full utilisation of the line bandwidth which may result in ‘slow Internet’, impacting the quality of a video conference, or leading to a lower resolution for the streaming video watched.”

The statement said that in such cases, it is advisable to check how the bandwidth is utilised over the day and to define some rules of priority usage to make sure parents can work efficiently and children can attend their online classes seamlessly.

Another possible element to look at is the area where parents and children are attending to work and classrooms within their residential homes.

“As most of the devices are connected to the broadband line via Wi-Fi , they are dependent on the signal quality of the Wi-Fi to transmit and receive the data. Not all areas in the home will have the same Wi-Fi coverage or signal quality because multiple walls, concrete structures and metal components in the building can lead to the degradation of the Wi-Fi signal and may impact the user experience, for example when running a video conference on Zoom.

“For essential devices like notebooks, a cable connection to the Wi-Fi router can help as there are four ports available.”

The statement also underlines the importance of improving Wi-Fi coverage in one’s home through the use of Mesh-Wi-Fi systems, adding that these are offered by service providers DST, Progresif and imagine.

It adds that Mesh-Wi-Fi systems “improve the Wi-Fi quality dramatically within the home structure by bridging long distances between broadband router and the locations you want within the home you have segregated for work and online learning”.

COLLABORATIVE INITIATIVES IN SUPPORTING E-LEARNING

Towards enhancing WFH and learning experience during this challenging time, the statement highlights that reliable digital platforms are essential, especially to support educators to engage better with students.

“Therefore, through the existing memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the MoE and Microsoft, students and teachers are provided with free Microsoft 365 (M365) accounts, offering new ways to extend teaching and learning beyond the classroom.

“Using the M365 accounts, students and teachers are also provided with free online Microsoft Office 365 applications, such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Teams, allowing them to work together and communicate seamlessly.”

In addition, MoE with the support of the MTIC and AITI launched the Device Donation Campaign as part of their ‘Whole-of-Nation’ approach.

The campaign aims to collect donations in terms of IT devices such as tablets and laptops to aid students in need in supporting their online learning.

Donations can be dropped off until September 30, 2021 from 8.30am to 11.30am on Mondays to Thursdays and Saturdays at the following locations: Department of Co-Curriculum Education, Jalan 10, RPN Kampong Lambak Kanan in Brunei-Muara District; and Tutong Sixth Form Centre, Kampong Bukit Beruang in Tutong District.

Apart from such collaboration between government ministries and statutory body, more initiatives were organised in cooperation with private corporations such as the Donate Data Campaign, a donation initiative conducted by MoE and Progresif.

In responding to the Donate Data campaign, Zarifah binti Haji Mokhtar, a parent of a Sengkurong Sixth Form Centre student, appreciated the initiative as “students can access the Internet as a platform to broaden their knowledge and allows the community to support equitable access for all students”.

Meanwhile, Senior Mistress Literacy from Rimba II Secondary School Adrina binti Haji Mohd Agus Din said, “I believe the Donate Data initiative opens numerous doorways for students and teachers. The students are now well equipped to explore independent learning. Teachers are also excited to try creative ways in making fun and engaging lessons.”

Another donation initiative is the Goals for Education campaign, which is jointly initiated between Dynamik Technologies Sdn Bhd and Progresif. Apart from these campaigns, donations also came through imagine and Brunei Shell Petroleum Company Sdn Bhd (BSP) as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme.

Through such donation campaigns and CSR programmes, students in need have been receiving aid in terms of sim cards and tablets from public agencies, private corporations as well as such donations from the public, it was shared.

“Collective efforts between the public, government agencies and private sectors as well as the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are keys to prevailing over the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the statement.

It added that the public and agencies interested to contribute IT devices through the Device Donation Campaign can contact +6737163184 / +6738198404 during office hours or via email to [email protected]