This year looks set to be the best yet for digital education in UK schools, with COVID-19 accelerating the adoption of technology.
The sector is booming, with new solutions emerging for infrastructure, management and communication, as well as learning and content. It’s a reason to be optimistic about the future of digital technology in schools, but with a vast number of new products entering the market and the pressure on schools to make quick, budget-conscious decisions, it’s easy to choose the wrong product. Other factors beyond the financial – such as continuous quality or how the product integrates into the holistic digital plan for the school – can fall by the wayside.
It’s more important than ever for decisions on technology to be based on full, detailed information and planning. Every penny matters in a school budget and investing in technology is a costly and long-term investment. Every decision impacts the very heart of the school and affects multiple processes and operational elements like timetables and curricula.
Unlike apps, investing in hardware and software can have negative consequences; a rushed or poorly planned upgrade can even open the (virtual) school gate to hackers or fraudsters. Other examples, like over-reliance on poor AI technology, could mean that mistakes are made in determining a child’s progress level; or the rushed introduction of a full virtual learning environment accidentally tripling screen time.
“Unlike apps, investing in hardware and software can have negative consequences; a rushed or poorly planned upgrade could even open the (virtual) school gate to hackers or fraudsters”
‘An industry-wide benchmark’
The argument for quality control is clear. A framework needs to be created; an industry-wide benchmark that certifies vendors for quality, inspecting a variety of factors including safeguarding, fraud risk, reputation management, quality of learning, connectivity, security and relationships between parents, students and teachers – something I champion as a school governor and Chair of the Digital Education Awards.
In the absence of benchmarked quality standards being available today, senior management and governors need to carefully study matters beyond the initial price and implementation – especially as the pressure to ramp up digital capability increases. It’s necessary to consider all aspects of a supplying organisation’s business, such as financial stability, change-management processes, insurance cover and qualifications and certifications of the supplier.
‘Check the fine print’
Additionally, management must review the school’s current and planned IT infrastructure and make sure reviews go into minute detail. Is there a failsafe plan for password management? What’s the process for backups, software update schedules and disaster planning?
How is CCTV managed and monitored? That’s before you tackle staff training in tech and system testing.
Ensure that contracts and policies are in place with vendors, and that these are regularly reviewed and updated. Check the fine print; these agreements should cover all eventualities, such as accessing and owning data, sale of the vendor, price changes, update policies and even whether the employees of the vendor business are DBS checked. At the same time, make sure that parent, pupil and staff policies and contracts match the changes you’re introducing.
2021 brings all in the digital education sector hope for many reasons, with increased technology and, as a result, enhanced education on the horizon. But as technology becomes increasingly prevalent in schools, ensure that you take the extra steps needed to implement with quality in mind and support a stress-free future.