Once the preserve of flipcharts and blackboards, the twenty-first century classroom is beginning to resemble more of an IT suite than a traditional learning space. iPads, laptops and interactive whiteboards have become more commonplace than could ever have been predicted, and for some schools, education technology (or edtech) has become an integral part of everyday learning.
But despite UK schools spending £900m on edtech annually, its adoption is fragmented and uneven across the country, and many institutions have neither the funds nor the expertise to make best use of the technology now available to them.
With funds and resources increasingly stretched (secondary schools’ IT budgets are, for example, falling by as much as 7% a year) the education secretary Damian Hinds has called for a ‘strong partnership’ between schools and the government to help improve use of and access to edtech.
But with a mere £400m promised for ‘little extras’ – such as technology – in this year’s budget, and research showing that edtech can actually widen, rather than bridge, socioeconomic divides, more still needs to be done to ensure all schools have an equal chance to invest in and utilise educational technology.
With so much to choose from, educators can easily feel left in the dark when it comes to ensuring the technology they use is both affordable and effective.
While edtech can be revolutionary and innovative, it can also be expensive – and overwhelming. And with so much to choose from, educators can easily feel left in the dark when it comes to ensuring the technology they use is both affordable and effective.
There are already over 10m pupils in UK schools, and that number is set to increase by over half a million by 2026 – with a 20% increase in secondary school pupils alone. This means many educators are time-pressed enough as it is, without the pressure of navigating their way round new technologies.
Last year, the Education Endowment Foundation released evaluations of 28 digital technologies, finding moderate impact for moderate cost, but underneath these results lies a huge variation between different technologies, how they are implemented and their overall impact.
Indeed, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported in 2015 that without adequate guidance, hi-tech equipment purchased by schools can actually struggle to deliver good results.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported in 2015 that without adequate guidance, hi-tech equipment purchased by schools can actually struggle to deliver good results.
This leaves educators at risk of buying blind and choosing technology that may not be right for them. And although Damian Hinds identified five key areas that can be helped by edtech (teaching, assessments, training, administration, and lifelong learning), the types of technology that can help these different areas varies hugely.
That means schools must choose wisely when they invest, ensuring the technology they choose is suitable for their needs – be that assisting with back-office aspects of school business, such as lettings; or providing tailored support for struggling students or those with additional learning needs.
There is currently, however, almost no national guidance to help them do so. Organised networks, for example, can be an excellent start to ensuring edtech is adopted effectively and evenly across the country, providing educators with crucial information and support.
Encouragingly, these are gradually starting to crop up. The Blended Learning Consortium (set up by the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group, or FELTAG) and Apple, Google and Microsoft’s networks of trained, educator ambassadors, are all a good start.
Schools must choose wisely when they invest, ensuring the technology they choose is suitable for their needs.
November, too, saw the announcement of the ‘Edtech 50 Schools’, supported by technology giant Intel. This new project aims to find institutions demonstrating excellent digital leadership and practice, eventually creating a national, school-led network of edtech innovation.
But, while promising, this is only a start. England still lacks a national, government-led strategy anything like Wales’ Hwb programme and Scotland’s GLOW platform, both of which seek to share and explore the impact of edtech on teaching and learning.
With almost all of the UK’s pupils located in England, setting up a national strategy incorporating networks, teaching and support should not just be a recommendation, it’s critical to ensuring educators have the resources to understand and implement edtech in their schools, whether by seeing how other schools have used edtech to their advantage, or by being given the resources to explore and understand edtech before making a major financial commitment.
If given the right support, edtech has genuine potential to revolutionise the way education is delivered across the country. But in order to do so, it needs energy, focus and investment. The technology may be already out there, but for schools to be able to access and use it, edtech needs sustained and systematic attention on a national level. If this occurs, the possibilities for our schools could well be endless.