The advisory board behind the Bett education technology show have written an open letter to the education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, outlining what they believe should be his key priorities.
While the pandemic has underlined the intrinsic importance of technology in education, they say, much of it is either outmoded or sub-optimally understood by teaching staff.
“There is a way ahead for blended learning which would free up teacher time, reinforce learning and reach pupils who do not find in-person learning as accessible,” they write.
The letter also calls for sweeping changes to the exam system, and argues that AI must be allowed to play a fundamental role in the learning experience.
Zahawi’s record as an entrepreneur – such as co-founding YouGov – and ministerial experience in both children’s services and health should make him well-placed to deliver forward-thinking leadership, say the board.
The letter identifies four key areas that the education secretary should turn to most urgently:
“We must sweep away the factory model where each pupil is expected to advance at the same pace in every subject, regardless of ability and interest,” say the board. Instead, “classrooms should be re-engineered with AI providing seamless learning between school and home”.
The starting point, they argue, should be a royal commission on AI and robotics and their impact on our future, helping “put some meat on the bones of the government’s recently published National AI Strategy”.
They also call for continued funding for the Edtech Demonstrator Programme.
“If the UK wants to enhance its might on the world economic stage, we must upskill and reskill our
workforce,” says the letter. “Further education remains the most direct route for this and it is essential that it be adequately funded.”
The skills and worker shortage, combined with an ageing population, means the government should also fund training for older people to develop their digital skills.
Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities need greater access to technology, insist the board:
“It enables communication, access to the curriculum, self-expression and independent learning in ways that are not possible without it. This can be done with generic devices: we do not need to reinvent the iPad. The real digital divide lies in teacher awareness and a programme should be introduced to sharpen teachers’ awareness of how technology can be used to support SEND students.”
Finally, says the letter, Zahawi should consider scrapping GCSEs in favour of a broader baccalaureate and incorporating both academic and vocational education at age 18.
The Bett UK Advisory Board is made up of 13 educators and leaders from across the education sector, representing a cross-section of roles. They meet every six weeks to act as a sounding board for Bett’s proposals and thoughts.