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Roundtable: Simon Harbridge

In this issue's roundtable, we ask how tech could start to help promote inclusivity for disadvantaged students

Posted by Rianna Newman | August 18, 2017 | People

Simon Harbridge, CEO Stone Group, joins the discussion.

Q. Is tech in education inclusive, divisive or neutral?

Simon Harbridge: Technology should form part of the overall vision of schools. Technology is the nexus of collaboration, inclusivity, and opportunities to share and explore different cultures and ways of living, through, for example, augmented or virtual reality. But, if you haven’t got the overall vision right you won’t get the pedagogy right. Technology is a fantastic enabler if deployed in the right way.  

Q. What are the considerations when introducing tech into education?

Simon Harbridge: In fact, learning is not just about the technology you and your school invest in. It’s about how you teach with it and how students learn using it. It’s no good putting PCs in front of students and leaving them. Technology has little or no effect on student engagement when it’s not used in the right context or in a way that stimulates, inspires and encourages students to want to learn, interact and collaborate. 

Teachers need to integrate technology and software into their lesson plans to get the most out of it, so you need their buy in from the start. You also need to engage pupils’ families to make sure they are supported whether buying devices through BYOD or when their children are involved in a 1:1 scheme where schools provide the devices. 

Q. What projects and resources exist to help level the playing field?

Simon Harbridge: We have been working with Family Fund, the UK’s largest provider of grants to low-income families raising disabled and seriously ill children and young people, since 2008. And in that time, we have supplied over 100,000 technology bundles to families, who without access to the latest IT equipment would be without the means to pursue their aspirations. 

For example, we have worked with Family Fund to supply a tablet device for the family of a child with familial exudative vitreoretinopathy (FEVR), a hereditary disorder that can cause progressive vision loss. While the child is thriving in mainstream school, with additional help, the technology is allowing the family to continue to support his learning at home. For children with vision impairments, technology will play a major part in helping them overcome challenges throughout their lives. It is important that as children they are utilising the technology available to give them the best chance to achieve their potential.  

Q. What software or equipment can help?

Simon Harbridge: Just like the corporate world, the ability to collaborate fosters a sense of working towards common goals and, latterly, feelings of inclusion within education. Office 2016 has a fantastic collaborative platform. Real Time Presence allows pupils to work on certain documents simultaneously, where everyone can see the document, edit it, or make additions in real time. 

 Apple also has some great devices and tools for collaboration and inclusive learning. For pupils with attention deficits and other cognitive learning disabilities, Guided Access is a great tool that allows teachers to limit access to an iOS device so that the pupil stays on one app, minimising visual stimulation. Dictation apps are great for students with dyslexia, and Speak Selection can aid pupils with comprehension by reading out loud emails, iMessages, web pages and ebooks and highlighting words as they are read.

Q. Given the financial pressures on education at present what are the quick wins?

Simon Harbridge: There are several quick wins that schools should be looking at. BYOD is great for families that can afford their own devices, but 1:1 schemes should be considered for those pupils who are unable to do this. 

High-quality refurbished devices are a great option for budget-challenged schools. Refurbished devices go through a comprehensive erasure of all existing software programs and data before the units are safety and functionality tested and fully cleaned, so that for all intents and purposes the device is new, but the cost can be 50% lower than a new device. In practice, this means schools could supply double the number of devices if they choose refurbished devices.

In the mid to longer term, joining or establishing a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) can result in economies of scale and efficiency savings that will allow greater investment in devices. By pooling resources, centralising back office services and using technology effectively, savings can be made and efficiencies gained. If you add in a combined infrastructure services solution specifically developed for MATs, every pupil will have access to the same resources and teaching materials, anywhere on any device and at any time. This allows every pupil or student to experience a consistent experience throughout the school journey, from any of the academies within the MAT.

Q. If money were no object for education, what equipment or resource could be provided for students that are disadvantaged in some way?

Simon Harbridge: It’s not always about money. Even with limited resource, if you have the right vision, whether for a single school or MAT, the right selection of technology, either new or refurbished devices, and the right deployment of devices such as 1:1 or BYOD schemes, it’s possible to spread budgets a long way even under strained circumstances.  

But clearly if schools had unlimited budgets, investing in technologies that will allow pupils to learn in a way that works for them would be advantageous, whether this is through interactive learning from augmented or virtual reality, or flipped learning.

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