Buildings can tell us when they need repair, Wi-Fi on every street corner, sensors that tell the dustbin men where, when and how often to collect and even technology that tells us which streets are more likely to be crime hotspots based upon traffic and movement. It’s just a sample of the things that we could hope to see in a connected smart city. As we connect more devices to the Internet – watches, smartphones, cars, buildings and even our dustbins – we have more data at our fingertips upon which to make smarter and more efficient decisions. That, in turn, makes us smarter and more efficient. And in an age where technology should help us to reduce costs, that’s a good thing.
To work well, smart cities really need only three things; a smart and innovative population – that’s where education comes in; a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem, i.e. businesses, and smart government and infrastructure. Schools have a pivotal role to play and so thinking digitally is crucial to success. It’s important that they prepare their students for higher education or for the world of work and collaborate with the other two elements – businesses and local government to ensure they help to prepare students for what lies beyond the school gates, whilst ultimately delivering digitally competent professionals into the workplace.
The case for return on investment is challenging when schools are often still set up in legacy departmental ‘silos’ of data and in their decision-making. Whose responsibility is it to drive the digitisation of school services for students and staff? Is it an executive decision based around delivering return for fees (in the case of private education) or local authority funding, a need to engage with and educate students more effectively, a marketing issue based around attracting/engaging new students, an IT decision to promote the benefits technology can bring, or a departmental decision based around the requirements of each department? The answer is all of them – and of course more widely, beyond the school, it’s of benefit to society.
Digital schools will deliver digital ready HE students or employees that go on to become influential members of society. Cities will be able to deliver an “internet of things” strategy backed by not just smart technology, but smart people too, and in all of the world’s smart cities, there are smart people – lots of them. They’re being educated to a tertiary level in university and colleges that are increasingly digital in nature and that helps to attract some of the brightest national and international students to their gates. Not only that, many of those universities are at the core of the transformation from industrial to information-based economies.
It’s a symbiotic lifecycle where urbanisation drives the demand for education because of the higher-level skills requirement of the economy, whilst education drives urbanisation because it's where educated and skilled people choose to live and find work and school their children.
Predictions are optimistic – according to analyst firm Statista, we will see 3.33 billion connected devices in smart cities by 2018 and Gartner predicts that roughly two-thirds of devices will be consumer-owned items. As a city’s population grows, more data will be collected and the city becomes smarter. Schools don’t have a moment to waste on the path to digital education if they are to play their part in delivering the next 'work ready' generation.