Martin Hamilton: Government must ‘claw back’ political will for edtech investment

Jisc futurist criticises lack of focus by government lost in Brexit negotiations

Investment in education technology is being held back because the government is distracted by Brexit, according to education futurist Martin Hamilton.

Hamilton, who works for industry body Jisc, spoke to Education Technology after giving evidence to a House of Commons committee on the role of technology in the classroom on January 8.

He told ET: “The machinery in government is there, the budget could be put into it, it’s just there needs to be the political will to do it, and at the moment all the political will seems to be diverted to endless arguments about Brexit. It would be nice to claw some of that back again.”

The committee, chaired by MP Robert Halfon, is part of the ongoing enquiry into Industry 4.0 by the government.

Responding to a question about preparing learners for near-future careers and near-future industries, Hamilton emphasised the importance of basic skills, citing a failure of one third of KS2 students to meet expected standards of numeracy and literacy, referring to it as “an enormous problem”.

He said: “How can those people go on to successful careers in an increasingly digitised world if we can’t get numeracy and literacy right?”

If we’re going to throw technology into education anywhere, it should be at literacy and numeracy.
– Martin Hamilton, Jisc

A large part of the argument put forward by the witnesses related to the efficacy and implementation of edtech, and whether educators receive appropriate sufficient training and support for Industry 4.0. David Brown, professor in interactive systems for social inclusion at Nottingham Trent University, relayed that the most common concerns he has heard from teachers are about regular training and the expense of technology.

Hamilton told ET: “If we’re going to throw technology into education anywhere, it should be at literacy and numeracy.”

He also referred to the issue of trust in edtech procurement, and that education institutions need to trust the companies whose technology they are buying, in order to ensure they are comfortable using it.

He said: “I think Edtech Impact is going to be very interesting to watch, because it’s the first concerted effort to build a kind of TripAdvisor for edtech, which is going to be built from the ground up on trusted reviews from people educators view as peers. The flip side of that is, are there contractual, regulatory, aspects?”

Jisc is currently undergoing research into a “kind of edtech passport” which would work to identify companies who have qualified as trusted providers.

The meeting is just one in a series of hearings in the House of Commons enquiry into Industry 4.0. Previous witnesses include Professor Rose Luckin, professor of Learner Centred Design, UCL Knowledge Lab at UCL Institute of Education, Joysy John, director of education at Nesta, and, famously, Pepper the robot.

Further meetings in the enquiry, launched in May 2018, have yet to be confirmed. Oral evidence is ongoing.