An independent government report into the future of edtech in English schools has cautioned ministers against taking a too hands-off approach, remarking that countries with the most successful approach use regulation and clear government-set directives.
The report was commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) in December 2021. Researchers polled teachers, held workshops, interviewed education and tech sector representatives and reviewed existing research. The finding were published on 9 June.
Teachers share their frustrations and concerns
The perceived lack of affordability is, according to teachers, the biggest obstacle to implementing edtech in schools in England. Seventy-one per cent said that constrained school budgets and the expense of edtech are significant concerns.
Schools expressed frustration at not having the budgets “to embrace emerging technologies wholesale, for example, when considering investments in VR/XR kit, and purchasing Learning Management Systems”.
Schools and colleges say they want digital resource centres, pooled budgets, and more centralisation and curation of digital content.
The teacher survey suggested that a lack of staff knowledge and confidence were the second and third biggest perceived barriers. Researchers found the interaction of various factors exacerbated these problems: initial teacher training (ITT) offers “limited” edtech instruction while older teachers are often from a less tech-confident generation. Teachers do not have time to attend training courses, while a lack of knowledge and confidence within senior leadership means CPD opportunities are limited lower down the school.
Given the expense of edtech, teachers said that the limited “availability of evidence-based” edtech made it hard to know what to procure and how best to use it. The report concluded: “Insufficient information to navigate products and services, and mixed levels of confidence in being able to apply edtech to its best effect seem to have held schools and colleges back.”
The fourth highest barrier was the digital divide, which restricts schools and colleges in deprived areas most. Many teachers view the digital divide as a reason to slow edtech implementation “for fear of doing more harm than good by anchoring teaching and learning to technologies that may be out of reach for some families”.
The report on what is needed
- Create a new strategy
The report makes clear that “edtech is not inherently democratic and that there are inevitable tensions between commercial and public interests”. Researchers warn that growing corporatisation and monopolisation threaten equitable education – as do paywalls and algorithms. Better evidence is needed to scrutinise and assess the impact of edtech and create a body of information on how tools are implemented successfully.
“All of the international comparator countries have sought to identify a clear role for government in setting direction and strategy while maintaining an appropriate level of regulatory oversight of edtech industry,” the report adds.
Although there are different models to approach this, “a clear national digital strategy and funding with a joining-up of departmental objectives” is a common component of success. “In England, the complexity of governance arrangements presents a particular challenge,” the report notes.
“Digital technologies stand to position teachers as content creators and curators, especially with the more widespread availability of VR/XR and AI,” the report predicts – but CPD and ITT do little to prepare the workforce for this. More experienced, confident teachers would better assist procurement, edtech assessment procedures and government strategies.
Investing in senior leaders is perhaps the most crucial of all. The report notes: “The literature shows that teachers in schools and colleges where the head teacher has a strong vision and commitment to edtech are more likely to have a positive view towards the role of technology in education.”
- Address digital inclusion
Socio-economically disadvantaged students, and those with SEND, are currently the most excluded from edtech. “The international picture is very much one of rebooting edtech with equity and inclusion in mind,” the report says. “This includes re-designing services and platforms for accessibility, as well as maximising the benefits of new tech such as Robotics and gamification for teaching and learning.”
The report on what could work
In Denmark, a national ‘Netflix-style’ edtech platform gives widespread access to a raft of software.
In China, huge efforts have been made to address poor Wifi in rural areas. The government in England has also made commitments to tackle poor connectivity.
In America, the government has launched a collaborative project to define standards of evidence for edtech to address the inconsistency of evidence and quality control that can undermine trust.