General Secretary, Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)
While the pandemic caused great disruption to the education sector, an accidental benefit has been a step towards change in education technology.
After a slow start, the Government distributed more than 1.3 million laptops to schools for children without access to technology and is providing a further 500,000 laptops this academic year. Teachers experienced what amounted to a crash course in delivering online education. A wealth of digital resources was created to bolster a national home schooling effort.
It was not – and never can be – a substitute for the interaction of classroom teaching. It was a system forged in extremis. However, it familiarised teachers with digital platforms and new pedagogical approaches.
Potential of blended learning
The challenge now is how to capitalise on this experience and build education technology into the classrooms of the future, not as an emergency backstop, but to enhance learning to the benefit of children and their teachers. There is much discussion of blended learning – the integration of computer technology into lessons alongside interaction with a teacher.
The potential is unquestionably there, all that’s needed is an act of ambition and imagination on the part of the government.
If achieved correctly, blended learning has the potential to utilise rich digital resources for children while freeing up teachers to spend more time talking with pupils about their learning and providing them with tailored support.
Demand for new approach
However, the Government’s approach to education technology is unlikely to provide us with a coherent vision of how to achieve this ambition. It is based on schools bidding to become ‘edtech demonstrators’ to share ideas with other schools. Though well-intentioned, it is an inherently piecemeal way of doing things, under-resourced and under-powered.
The Government’s approach does not even begin to address the potential of technology to replace pen and paper exams with online assessments. For a generation of young people accustomed to keyboards, it is anachronistic that they must handwrite exams and that there is an entire industry for transporting, securing and marking millions of scripts. Imagine the time, expense and hassle that could be saved by online assessments.
A need for government support
For all these reasons, what we need is a coherent national strategy on education technology which invests and utilises the extraordinary power of the digital age. Such a strategy needs to be coordinated and resourced by the Government, working in collaboration with the education sector and drawing on technological expertise to develop deliverable plans which can become part of every classroom. The potential is unquestionably there, all that’s needed is an act of ambition and imagination on the part of the Government.