COVID-19 closures drove multi-generational digital upskilling in schools

Research released by education publisher Pearson today shines a light on how far the pandemic has impacted edtech and digital expertise among the UK teaching workforce

The UK is (hopefully) cruising towards the end of a very long lockdown tunnel. While the last 12 months have been incredibly difficult for many in multiple ways, there are a number of positives borne from the challenges of the pandemic. For schools, a major boon lies in the accelerated digital upskilling the switch to remote learning has empowered among teachers.

A study published today (26 April) by education and assessment company Pearson reveals the extent to which the pandemic has helped to improve tech capabilities among the teaching workforce. According to the findings, digital expertise have excelled among both teachers and students, with 81% of the former reporting advanced digital skills among staff following the shift to remote working and learning, and 64% of participants also claiming to recognise improvements among students’ digital abilities.

The study was conducted amidst the nation’s third official lockdown, drawing responses from 6,817 teachers – including classroom teachers, middle leaders and head teachers. Among other things, it demonstrates the potential longevity of classroom technology, with almost half (46%) of respondents stating that they expect to see more on-screen assessment in education moving forward, while over a third (34%) predict that technology will increase levels of parental engagement with children’s learning over the next few years.

It’s important to recognise the changes, but it’s also important that the sector does not overlook nor underestimate the challenges that remain. For example, one of the major issues expressed by teachers in the  survey was the increase in workload (61%). On top of this, many felt that the remote transition made it harder to personalise education provision (55%).

For students, the biggest perceived challenge was, overwhelmingly, getting and staying motivated to learn, with 83% of teachers stating they witnessed their classes struggle with this. Students in schools with the highest proportion of learners eligible for free school meals (FSM) were also found to be considerably less likely to have access to digital resources and technology than those in schools with fewer FSM students.

Admiring schools’ “inspiring” willingness to embrace technology and minimise the disruption to learning over this past year, Les Hopper, director of digital and assessment for UK schools at Pearson, said the necessary emphasis on digital learning has driven a “rise in understanding of the strengths of digital”, which, he claims, “provides an opportunity for teaching and learning to evolve”.

“However,” he said, “it has also exposed the challenges we need to overcome in order to move forward more confident.”

“Efficiencies in marking meant a more manageable process for teachers with children enjoying the instantaneous nature of receiving notifications rather than waiting” – year 6 teacher, South West school

Pearson has pledged to support the sector as it continues to steer its way out of the pandemic, offering free support and access to its learning platforms for both teachers and families, and funding 250 laptops alongside a £50,000 contribution to the Computers for Kids campaign.

Speaking of their experience of delivering teaching online through the lockdowns, a year 6 primary teacher from a school in the South West commented: “Digital learning for us in the most recent national lockdown was, on the whole, a positive experience for staff and children. While there were challenges – generating, free-flowing classroom discussion was difficult at times and although differentiation was possible, it was more complicated and support could not be provided as fluidly as it would be in class – the immediacy of technology has supported us to implement a number of effective processes.

“Efficiencies in marking meant a more manageable process for teachers with children enjoying the instantaneous nature of receiving notifications rather than waiting…and online assessment tools provide not only a detailed data analysis for staff, but a more enjoyable experience for pupils…

“Importantly,” added the teacher, “the children enjoyed becoming more independent with their learning and taking ownership of time management skills…”

The findings come as Pearson launches its second Digital Live conference today, which focuses on ‘evolving education’.

In other news: Two-thirds of parents placed no restrictions on children’s internet use during lockdown


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