Schools should make every child digitally literate

Students are receiving inconsistent education in technology says Sam Pemberton

Q: Technology in education is constantly evolving, what do you think was the most significant edtech development in 2015?

A: 2015 has seen some very encouraging developments in areas such as screen sharing, which gives teachers the confidence to allow pupils to work independently without diminishing their overall learning experience. Until recently, the UK trailed the US when it came to open access learning environments, so it’s good that we’re gaining ground in this respect.

Q: Were we successful in reducing the digital divide this year? How do you think we can improve on this in 2016?

A: Yes and no. It’s probably the same answer I’d have given last year: there’s been progress, but not quite enough. Teachers are doing their utmost to incorporate tech into their lessons in more thoughtful, innovative, and outright interesting ways than ever before, so I’m not going to argue that the digital gap isn’t closing.

But the basic problem remains the same: there’s not enough financial support for educational technology, and this has led to widely inconsistent experiences for pupils across the UK. In 2016, more investment in tech – and helping tech-savvy teachers – will do a lot to solve this problem.

I recall my own childhood – it was thanks to access to good tech that I learnt to code, got in to software, and have ended up in the thriving UK tech sector.

Q: The computing curriculum has now been in place for over a year, has it proved to be a success so far, and how do you think we will we see this evolve in 2016? 

A: I think the new curriculum speaks for itself, and much of the credit goes to those schools and teachers that have helped make it a success. Coding and programming in particular have been great for UK schoolchildren, and provide both an understanding of the underlying structures of much of the modern world and a potential launchpad for a future career in IT.

In the next year, I hope to see more female pupils getting involved with computing. I have seen for myself how incredibly valuable women in the workplace are, yet there is a serious shortfall of women in STEM roles at present. We can somewhat attribute this to wider misconceptions about women’s interest in tech roles, but that itself may partially originate from a general lack of encouragement in schools. 

In general, 2016 would ideally see teachers receive more support and training with regard to the new curriculum. The aim should be to make every child in every UK school digitally literate – and to have the option of a career in IT and computing when they finish their studies.

I have seen for myself how incredibly valuable women in the workplace are 

Q: E-safety is still a key issue in schools, with cyberbullying presenting a huge problem. What steps can we take to tackle this?

A: E-safety, and particularly cyberbullying, is a huge issue to tackle, and student engagement will be a central part of any successful strategy.

They should also be involved in creating (and revising) a school’s acceptable online usage policies, as well as playing a role in the monitoring of these policies in a number of ways. Peer mentoring schemes and anonymous reporting tools give students the power to combat cyberbullying and promote a positive learning environment for themselves and their classmates. When issues do occur, restorative – rather than simply punitive – justice, where those involved are made to understand the impact of their behaviour, is key to preventing future incidents. It’s about good policies, good monitoring and good engagement, and placing students at the very heart of the process.

It’s vital that all students feel comfortable and confident in the digital world, and safeguarding is a vital aspect to encouraging this.

Q: BYOD adoption continues to rise in our schools and universities. How can we ensure we further reduce the data security risks associated with this next year?

A: Here are some recommendations for a school looking to introduce BYOD in the next year:

1.     Create your own Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) with a section on data protection, and make sure your staff are trained and supported to enforce it.

2.     Make Network Access Control (NAC) compulsory so that computer usage policies and management software can be enforced.

3.     Ensure students sign an End User Agreement (EUA) allowing devices to be monitored by third party monitoring software in the same way school devices are.

4.     Prohibit personal WiFi or mobile broadband so that students cannot circumnavigate the network while on premises.

5.     Create minimum specifications for devices permitted on the network defining software requirements, internet security and antivirus protection.

Again, it is essential to engage with students and explain why the rules and guidelines are in place and what they are there to achieve.

Q: MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), WYOD (Wear Your Own Device), gamification, are all popular terms and trends seen and used throughout the education sector. What trends will emerge over the coming months?

A: I think there’s still a lot of emerging for these listed themes to do before we start to think about what’s next. The education sector can be very quick to talk about new trends and “game-changing” technology, but adopting and embedding these things effectively will take time. It’s important that all students across the UK are given a consistent learning experience whichever school they go to, in whatever part of the country. I am passionate that technology has a pivotal role to play in this. 

Sam Pemberton is the CEO of Impero Software W: