Teaching is no longer chalkboards and textbooks. Digital devices have become the norm in the modern classroom. To protect the future generations of Singapore, cybersecurity teams must ensure that the learning experience isn’t compromised.

Cong Rong, Director (Digital Workplace for Schools), Information Technology Division, MOE shares how Singapore’s schools have benefitted from technology while highlighting that cybersecurity protections are now an everyday necessity. She also explains how MOE is looking to bring in more security features, like facial recognition, in the future.

Tell us more about your role. How do you protect the digital realm and improve citizens’ lives?

I am grateful to be given the opportunity to lead the Digital Workplace for Schools Branch under the IT Division of the Ministry of Education, to provide core ICT services for 43,000 teachers and 424,000 students across 342 schools (including Primary, Secondary and Junior Colleges) in Singapore.  Working closely with other MOE divisions and teams within the IT Division, we focus on developing a technology-enriched school environment for teaching and learning, to help make education more self-directed, personalised, connected and human-centred.

For instance, we design and implement ICT infrastructure used in schools (from ubiquitous wireless access to selecting notebooks for personalised learning), as well as support schools with quality applications to help them administer and run schools more effectively. We also provide information to planners in MOE HQ on how schools are doing, to support policy work through data-driven insights.

To ensure that schools can concentrate on their core mission to deliver quality education,  we were also involved in removing the complexities of deploying and managing ICT services from schools.

Specifically on cybersecurity, we protect schools ICT environment by making all the complex decisions in designing and keeping systems secure.

What sparked your interest in cybersecurity?

In this digital age, information flows seamlessly and a lot of our interactions take place online. Yet, as the convenience and connectivity do not come without risks, there is a strong need to protect our school users from cyberattacks by hackers.  Cybersecurity is no longer a niche field, it has become part of what we do every day. By understanding how hackers think and work, we can put in place the necessary measures to prevent data theft, protect against malware and mount a strong defensive response in the event of a cyberattack.

What has been the most impactful project of your career?

It would be the implementation of the Schools Standard ICT Operating Environment (SSOE) Programme which consolidates the provision and management of ICT infrastructure and services including network, desktops, messaging as well as ICT support for all schools, and transits schools to a connected ICT ecosystem for learning anytime and anywhere. SSOE 2 supports every learning moment beyond classrooms with enhanced ICT infrastructure and security.  We have obtained encouraging results in the latest customer satisfaction survey with more than 97 per cent of survey correspondents strongly agreeing or agreeing that SSOE provides good support for Teaching and Learning needs. During Covid-19, SSOE continues to provide robust and scalable infrastructure to support blended learning and remote access by school staff.

What challenges would you like to take on in the next year?

My team will be exploring data analytics to enable an enterprise view of data for deeper insights and continuous enhancement of the infrastructure and services that were rolled out.  We are also exploring biometric login for learning devices using facial recognition to further enhance the digital experience for students and teachers.

Who or what inspired you this year, and why?

Covid-19 has made our lives more challenging, but it has also created opportunities for us to lock in digitisation gains. This has inspired my team and I to always think about how to accelerate the digital transformation for MOE and schools to make every touch point digital by default, with effective and seamless learning experience for students in-class and out-of-class.

What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in cybersecurity?

It is important to have both good security and useability. Security does not mean that we should turn everything off and lock it up, and useability does not necessarily mean insecure.  We should strive for a balance between cybersecurity and the user experience. It is also useful to start with understanding users’ needs through user study and paying attention to the user experience – what users are trying to do and what the risks are, and then try to create solutions that are secure by default.  Other than ensuring good user experience, security by design also helps to prevent cybersecurity breach proactively rather than repairing the issues and restoring the systems after being hit by cybersecurity breach in a reactive manner.

If you could sum up your life motto in one sentence, what would it be?

It would be “Keep Calm and Carry On” :), which was a motivational poster produced by the British Government in 1939 in preparation for World War II. The poster was intended to raise the morale of the British public, threatened with widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities. It always motivates me when I am facing difficult situations, including when dealing with security breaches – as there is no point to be panic, just keep calm and follow the established cybersecurity incident response steps for timely follow up on detection and identification, containment, remediation, recovery and assessment.