Huawei’s plan for smart learning

BitDepth#996 for July 07

Huawei’s Pedro Gomez Miranda explains his company’s vision for digitally enabled education. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.
Huawei’s Pedro Gomez Miranda explains his company’s vision for digitally enabled education. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Pedro Gomez Miranda, Huawei’s Enterprise Chief Technology Officer for the Northern Latin American region, had set himself an uphill task.

His mission, on three consecutive days at UWI’s seminar series on Institutionalizing Best Practice in Higher Education, was to explain the high-level thinking behind the Chinese digital infrastructure company’s vision for tertiary education.

He had the right presentation, a densely technical slide deck with the title “Digital campus over IP, Smart Education over Cloud” and it outlines in merciless detail the company’s capabilities as an integrator and general upgrader of university smart initiatives.

Unfortunately his audience, while no doubt clever and inventive educators in their own right, seemed more than a little lost as he explained how the company’s technologies create more interactive versions of the classroom tools that teachers have come to take for granted.

Huawei, which means “the progress of China,” has also come to mean the progress of T&T, at least as far as the infrastructure supporting digital growth goes.

The company has been operating in Trinidad and Tobago almost invisibly for the last ten years and operates globally with 170,000 employees of which 76,000 work in research and development.

Huawei ranks 285 in the Fortune Global 500 and has established 31 joint innovation centers and 16 R&D centres to fuel its explosive growth as a systems upgrader and integrator.

The company declared early at the UWI discussions that “Building a better-connected university is our commitment,”and in the company’s digitally enabled university environment, it envisions smart versions of the classroom, the office, student management, energy management and site security.

In the smart classroom, student presence is not an absolute, aided by tools like mobile connectivity, telepresence, it’s an environment that can be accessed remotely with full interactivity on mobile devices.

The smart office delivers improved efficiency through telepresence meeting rooms, and client software which drives digital collaboration across clients on multiple platforms.

To manage students, a RFID enabled smart card lubricates on-campus shopping, ID checking, attendance control, parking access, improves self service and adds a layer of access control to the movement of people on the campus.

While it might seem redundant in energy rich T&T, greener buildings are always a good idea and the company’s smart energy systems, control water, power and airconditioning, monitoring the energy consumption in spaces and identify abnormal spikes.

Security is enhanced with high-definition surveillance capable of video analysis, counting and tracking pedestrian traffic, monitoring intrusions, using face detection and recognition and identifying lost or abandoned objects.

The impact of such a technology deployment is likely to bring its own challenges and while Huawei works with local systems integrators to implement its projects, there are social concerns that such sharply intrusive technologies would bring to the campus that the company would be surprised to encounter, one suspects.

The evolution from a traditional university environment, which held true until 1998 to an electronically enabled one for the next six years to the Internet and technology enabled solutions that drove change between 2006 and 2009 are now being migrated, since 2010, to the smart model, which delegates routine tasks more firmly to programming and automation while enabling greater interaction and collaboration among all the participants in the university ecosystem.

That shift, from being merely digital to using software and hardware as active participants in management and education is likely to be the most wrenching and least incremental of all the advancements that have been introduced into today’s school systems.

A university that doesn’t require students to be present for them to participate, which can shut off power and air-conditioning in empty rooms, can authenticate and track students as they traverse the campus might seem a bit Skynet for older minds, but these are systems that Huawei readily references as examples.

Pedro Gomez noted Huawei’s work as a supplier and integrator at the University of the Phillipines and at several universities in China, including Tianjin University City, Fudan University, Beijing Normal University and Shangai Jiao Tong University. Read more about Huawei’s ICT strategy here.

Huawei did not acknowledge any specific plans for partnering with UWI, UTT or any other tertiary institution, but T&T General Manager Jason Deng, said, “Huawei has been a global ICT partner of the education industry for many years, working to improve education quality and efficiency, achieve information-based education and bridge the digital divide in education, through our array of efficient, flexible and secure solutions.”