Government U-turn keeps edtech front and centre

The shelving of plans to fully reopen English primary schools means remote learning tools remain key to young people’s education. So why might the lockdown be adversely affecting the market?

Remote learning tools means that the government’s dropping of plans to fully reopen English primary schools ahead of the summer break need not necessarily diminish pupils’ education.

That’s the view of Simon Carter, director of edtech suppliers, RM Education. “As long as schools have the right technology in place – from facilitating student collaboration remotely to providing interactive online content – the opportunities for remote learning are endless,” he says. “And with the government willing to fund those schools who do not have such a remote learning platform, now is the time for every school to investigate further.”

Schools should already be considering what the sector will look like in the post-pandemic world – Simon Carter, RM Education

At face value, the exponential – if temporary – rise in home schooling appears to have been nothing but good news for edtech suppliers, with the move firing a singular growth in demand. In reality, the picture is a little more complex, thanks to the BBC offering what director general, Tony Hall, called the “biggest education effort the BBC has ever undertaken”. As the corporation’s Bitesize website became the hub for a wide range of curriculum-related learning for children of all ages, grateful parents-cum-teachers flocked to the government-backed initiative in their droves, with the site registering 5.2 million hits in the first week of lessons. As Hall noted, “this comprehensive package is something only the BBC would be able to provide”.

Which, for other learning enablers, presents something of a problem; while the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) says it supports the BBC’s initial response to the crisis, it is looking for guarantees that the broadcaster will slim down its offering once the summer holidays get underway next month. In April, BESA wrote to Hall with a list of five demands, including the removal of additional home-learning content from Bitesize and a content lock on iPlayer to ensure that, when schools reopen, it can’t be used in lessons. Otherwise, says the body representing 400 UK online curriculum content providers and education publishers, there is a risk of permanent market distortion.

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“This is important to help safeguard the UK’s strong history of quality educational content provision for schools and learners over the longer period,” Caroline Wright, director general of BESA, told Schools Week. “Teachers and learners in the UK benefit from a wide choice of content from many high-quality educational publishers because of the UK’s healthy and competitive commercial marketplace.”

Carter, too, argues that educationalists should have at least one eye on the longer term: “Schools should already be considering what the sector will look like in the post-pandemic world.”

The government’s shelving of its plan to fully reopen schools, he says, proves that “a change in plan can happen at any time: whether it’s because of coronavirus, a snow day, a leak, or even a fire, schools need to have an infrastructure in place that means they can adapt fast to mitigate the impact on their pupils. And with the help of all the right technology, a robust training regime and a continuity plan, along with a support mechanism in place when needed, educators can do just that and be confident they can deliver the same high quality of teaching in the classroom and out of it.”

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