This is an edited version of an article originally published on: Children & Young people now
Despite its overwhelmingly devastating impact for many across the world, many moments of connection, progress and collaboration were discovered amongst Covid-related disruption.
For the education sector, education technology (EdTech) presented revolutionary benefits for teachers, students and parents alike, which many hoped would extend beyond the pandemic. However, with the Government recently announcing the end of its flagship EdTech demonstrator programme, some fear that policy makers are overlooking the future potential offered by digital technology.
Echoing school leaders’ criticism of this scrapping as ‘disappointing’ and indicating a ‘lack of vision’, Al Kingsley explores the crucial role the programme has played in supporting attainment and wellbeing since its conception prior to the pandemic. Here, he makes the case for continued and sustained investment in EdTech which prioritises the sharing of best practice, promotes more personalised and flexible learning environments, and supports the evolution of pedagogical approaches to maximise the vast potential digital learning offers.
The Department for Education’s (DfE) EdTech Demonstrator Programme was developed to help schools across England access free, expert advice with “demonstrator” schools sharing best practice in running successful digital learning initiatives. Launched prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the programme has seen over 2,000 schools and colleges supported with the development and implementation of digital strategies in 2021-22. As a result, more than 100,000 classroom staff and one million learners reaped the benefits of digitally enhanced teaching and learning.
Everyone working or involved in the education sector throughout the pandemic can bear witness to the undeniably seismic role played by EdTech in facilitating access to education. However, by rolling back the EdTech Demonstrator Programme, the DfE fails to realise the longer-term potential of EdTech in a post-pandemic landscape. If we do not galvanise this ‘technological momentum’ (as described by Nadhim Zahawi in the recent Schools White Paper), we risk overlooking the power of EdTech at a pivotal moment.
Benefits beyond the pandemic
As seen throughout the pandemic, EdTech has facilitated improved collaboration between schools, staff and students. Resources including lesson plans or subject specialisms can be shared between schools virtually, helping extend access to creative and engaging class activities, and even allowing students to partake in subjects unavailable within their own school.
Additionally, the integration of digital technology into everyday school life boosts digital skills, which are vitally important given that 82 per cent of online job descriptions now stipulate digital skills as a role requirement. Frequent use of technology also helps empower young people to become respectful and safe digital citizens as they grow up in an increasingly digitised world.
At a time of rising demands on teachers and serious concerns regarding turnover in the profession, tools that support a healthy work-life balance and reduce staff stress must be welcomed. Schemes like the demonstrator programme which allow best practice and resources to be shared, exemplify the inclusive and supportive approach enabled by EdTech which can dramatically lessen the burden placed on teachers.
Time spent on administrative tasks has been significantly reduced, with the need to photocopy or print almost completely negated. Teachers’ workloads are additionally streamlined as they can easily share resources, no longer needing to constantly create new lesson plans. Classroom management systems can track student work and progress with digital assessment, helping teachers spend less time marking via automatically generated reports identifying ‘problem’ areas.
More investment, more potential, more learning
Underpinning all these benefits, is the potential EdTech has to completely transform the way we teach and learn, as it allows for increased personalisation and tailoring students’ needs and interests. From different methods of feedback such as voice notes to improve communication between teacher and learner, to new and engaging methods of exploring topic areas like programming robots, curriculums integrated with EdTech build on previous pedagogical approaches whilst fostering innovation within the classroom and capturing student engagement, passion and interest like never before.
The DfE itself noted last year that demonstrator schools would be responsible for “bridging the current activity from crisis response into long-term sustainability, ensuring use of technology is driven by pedagogy and business need”. Amongst school staff, there is real appetite for longstanding, ambitious digital goals, with one anonymous leader commenting last week that the scrapping “is very disappointing and represents… the wider missed opportunity and lack of vision we’re seeing again at the DfE about how technology could be enhancing schools.”
Schools may have returned to in-person teaching, but simply defaulting back to the pre-pandemic framework would be to discard all the progress witnessed in the last two years. The education landscape has in many ways been fundamentally changed by the accelerated digitisation of classrooms. – to cast this aside would be to close the door to innovation. It’s time to formulate a cohesive plan for the future of technology in schools, which, as we’ve all seen, can play a pivotal part in driving culture change, boosting outcomes and delivering on wellbeing targets.
Al Kingsley is group chief executive of NetSupport and Digital Poverty Alliance Ambassador