Could Education Technology do better for our children?
Coronavirus put education technology at the top of the class, but there are lessons to be learnt from its deployment during the crisis
The Covid-19 pandemic and unprecedented closure of schools catapulted education technology (EdTech) into the forefront of people’s minds and routines. It found its way into homes up and down the country in a way hitherto unimaginable.
EdTech itself is, of course, nothing new and has been around for longer than we may realise.
According to technology historian Neil Selwyn, the first officially documented use of EdTech in English schools dates back to 1924 and the series of educational radio broadcasts commissioned by Stanley Baldwin.
Fast-forward to today and there are hundreds of EdTech companies based in the UK. In fact, the Digital Economy Council believes London is the leading EdTech hub in Europe, and the only European city in the global EdTech top 10 by investment.
While the technology has evolved relentlessly over time, the principles underpinning the use of EdTech have not – and should not.
EdTech’s role is of course to support our fantastic teachers, not to replace them or reduce human interaction. No technology, whether a smart board or an interactive worksheet, can ultimately replace the magic of a teacher at the front of the classroom.
However, when used optimally, EdTech’s benefits are multifarious. It can engage learners, support first-rate teaching and improve attainment. Indeed, EdTech can augment the classroom experience, recognising different learning styles and learning needs. With increased efficiency it can also help reduce the time teachers have to spend on burdensome administrative tasks.
EdTech can support lifelong learning too, by easing the return to education and training. In an international development context, EdTech can extend the reach of schooling to places it otherwise could not go. Now more than ever, we need to be harnessing the best of what EdTech has to offer.
During my time as education secretary we launched an EdTech strategy to improve schools’ internet connectivity, develop digital skills and capability, support effective procurement and nurture a dynamic EdTech sector here in the UK.
At the time, nobody could have predicted today’s events. But the tumult of 2020 has only made this mission more urgent.
I know that this point is not lost on ministers and on schools, who have striven hard to deliver online learning in the most extraordinary circumstances and done a remarkable job.
As a country we are taking steps in the right direction but there are still challenges to overcome if we are to reap the real rewards of EdTech. Too often we have seen technology initiatives fail to have a positive impact.
We know too that not all education settings – or homes – have the broadband infrastructure necessary to make full use what is on offer.
For schools, working out how to integrate technology into the classroom can look daunting, given the huge range of products on offer, and the need to differentiate between genuine tools and gimmicks.
EdTech companies sometimes also struggle to connect with their target audience.
To help navigate these challenges, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Education Technology aims to provide a communication link between educators, policymakers, Parliamentarians and the EdTech sector.
Our initial work is focused on taking stock of the changed landscape we now see before us, through a call for evidence on which EdTech solutions ‘worked’ during the period of distance learning brought about by the lockdown.
The group also recently held an illuminating expert panel discussion which explored how we should define what worked, considered the gaps in our current understanding and looked at how we can remedy issues identified going forward.
Our report is due out soon.
Damian Hinds is Conservative MP for East Hampshire, former education secretary, and chair of the APPG on Education Technology