Transformed the educational outcomes for both staff and students
Gained end-to-end visibility of all networking equipment and data, including remote access point density
Significantly cut down on travel time by over 20 hours per month
725 separate Meraki networks
Over 10,000 Meraki devices
Over 120,000 unique clients per week
The population of the state of South Australia is spread across 7.7 million square kilometers—much of which is remote desert and farmland. One of the most remote schools in this region is Oodnadatta Aboriginal School, located near the western edge of the Simpson Desert—more than 1,000 km from Adelaide. The school is small, with only 17 enrolled students, two teachers, one principal, and two additional support staff.
Despite the size and remote location of Oodnadatta and other schools, the Government of South Australia, Department for Education, is committed to empowering “all South Australian children and young people with the knowledge, skills, and capabilities they need to become fulfilled individuals, active, compassionate citizens, and lifelong learners.”
Part of this commitment is ensuring that schools have the educational resources they need, such as fast, reliable internet access. Meeting the connectivity needs of these remote communities is a considerable challenge, which falls on the Department for Education’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) team. This includes ensuring that 515 K–12 schools and preschools throughout the state have access to the internet.
This is the story of how the ICT team accomplished this feat for Oodnadatta and hundreds of other schools throughout South Australia with the help of Cisco Meraki.
To say that Oodnadatta’s internet access was slow and unreliable would be an understatement. Oodnadatta’s internet access was via ISDN, which has a maximum speed of 128 Kbps. At that speed it would take a little over two minutes to download a 1 MB file. That might be sufficient for web browsing, but streaming and remote learning would be bogged down, and this is assuming the local network equipment was up to the task. It wasn’t. Copper cabling, saturated access points, and no ability to monitor data traffic were just some of Oodnadatta’s connectivity issues.
Another problem was that Oodnadatta’s network was old. Some switches had been sitting in cabinets collecting ten years’ worth of dust. Network failures were frequent, which meant the ICT team would have to spend more than 11 hours driving each way, sometimes weekly, to troubleshoot network and connectivity issues. The school staff was so accustomed to the network connection being down that “they often wouldn’t call us if there was a problem because they were so used to it not working,” explained Samuel Shipp, Team Leader of ICT Services, Government of South Australia, Department for Education.
While Oodnadatta may have represented one of the most egregious examples of connectivity problems, it wasn’t alone. Numerous other schools across the state faced similar challenges. If the Department for Education was to stand by its commitment, some things would have to change. Not only would the remote schools need to gain access to fast, reliable internet connections, but the schools’ network equipment would need to be modernized as well.
Geographically speaking, our decision to partner with Meraki was motivated by the accessibility of their dashboard interface. This feature substantially reduces the need for physical travel between various school site locations.
Program Lead, Extended Support Program, Government of South Australia, Department for Education
From this, the South Australia Department for Education’s SWiFT project was born, named after the swift family of birds, which are fast-flying birds that can fly long distances. The project’s primary goal was to provide high-speed, reliable internet to all of South Australia’s public schools, whether they were in metro regions or the remote desert. “Since 2018, we’ve been on a trajectory to ensure every student, every teacher across our system has access to quality educational outcomes through the use of digital technology,” said Dan Hughes, Chief Information Officer of ICT Services. “As part of that, we’ve focused our efforts on helping regional schools uplift their digital foundations.”
A major part of the project was providing schools with high-speed fiber optic connections. For locations where this wasn’t practical, such as Oodnadatta, they were instead outfitted with high-speed satellite-based internet access. But this alone was not enough. As Webber eloquently put it, “It’s all well and good to have a superhighway internet coming into each school, but when you’ve got an aged network, there’s no point in having high-speed internet if your network infrastructure is underperforming.”
An equally important part of the project was ensuring that schools had the necessary network infrastructure to take full advantage of these high-speed connections. This meant upgrading the network equipment of hundreds of widely dispersed schools. Early on in the project, the ICT team met with a number of vendors to discuss how to approach the network remediation upgrades. During these conversations, several of the vendors suggested that Meraki offered the best set of solutions that could help the team accomplish the colossal feat of getting every school up to digital speed.
In evaluating Meraki, the ICT team was impressed with the solutions’ ease of deployment, connectivity capabilities, and end-to-end visibility. They were especially excited with how the intuitive Meraki dashboard could help make thousands of kilometers of driving a thing of the past. Webber explained, “A large part of the reason we partnered with Meraki was how the solutions are reliable and accessible from anywhere with the dashboard, which can significantly cut down on travel time between site locations.”
Implementing Meraki has revolutionised our ability to support public school networks, particularly in regional and remote schools.
Senior ICT Account Manager, ICT Services, Government of South Australia, Department for Education
Such a mammoth undertaking doesn’t happen overnight, but five years after starting the SWiFT project, 515 schools have been outfitted with high-speed internet access, with about 300 of the schools implementing Meraki equipment. This represents 725 separate Meraki networks made up of 10,233 Meraki devices that see 124,857 unique clients per week, all of which generates 2,284 TB of data per week. In fact, this project made ICT Services the largest owner of Meraki equipment in the country.
“Implementing Meraki has revolutionized our ability to support government public school networks, particularly in regional and remote schools,” said Murton. “The introduction of Meraki has brought about numerous benefits that have undeniably enhanced educational outcomes for both staff and students. These reliable, modern, and effective Meraki networks have played a pivotal role in this transformation.”
For Oodnadatta, this meant students and staff now had access to a breadth of online resources that were simply not available to them before. It allowed students to collaborate and learn in new, innovative ways. With reliable, high-speed internet in place, the school has started seeing a consistent increase in students’ daily attendance.
One of the most noticeable benefits for ICT was how much less they needed to travel to the schools for network support. “Prior to Meraki, we’d have to drive out to the school to try to fix any little issue,” explained Murton. “Now, I can just log into the dashboard from anywhere and make a few minor changes. It saves us two days of travel.” Webber added, “The dashboard’s been a lifesaver for us, logistically. We can see that every wireless access point is working in Oodnadatta, which is 1,000 kilometers away. That’s gold for us.”
The dashboard also provided a level of visibility ICT had not experienced before. “We had no idea about how much data was flowing over the school’s networks,” said Murton. “But with the new network, we could now see access point density. The old network would failover because the access point would be saturated. This gave us an opportunity to actually see what was happening in these networks across the state, which was just massive for us.”
Shipp added, “I love working in the dashboard. It’s very visual, and I’m a very visual kind of a person. It also makes training staff a whole lot easier.”
As to how Meraki has helped Oodnadatta specifically, Shipp stated, “Since we have improved the network—and the students’ experience—more kids are turning up just so they can have an online experience. For this population, the school is one of the only places they can be online. And it’s not just about the kids. Meraki allows the educators to deliver the curriculum in modern ways.”
“These networking advancements have allowed us to provide a metro experience for all of the schools, regardless of where they’re located,” explained Murton. Webber added, “And this has helped us level the playing field for all students across South Australia.”