A commitment to closing the digital divide must be a lasting legacy of lockdown
Damian Hinds MP, Chair of the APPG on EdTech, reflects on the lessons learnt from lockdown on the increasing use of technology in education.
There is a spark of potential in everyone. At the heart of education is the commitment to help all pupils, whatever their background, realise that potential.
Many things contribute to social mobility: the home environment, early development, character and well-being, careers advice, role models, networks. But it is through education that the biggest differences can be made – and within education, it is all about teachers. That person standing at the front of the room can unlock the chances, and change the life course, of the child.
A central question in social mobility is how best to support great teachers. An increasingly important part of that is how best to deploy technology.
During the recent lockdowns, we have come to rely on education technology, or ‘EdTech’, like never before. Learning at a distance – and having to make that change so quickly – has been very challenging for teachers and for parents, as well as for children. But it has also highlighted what EdTech can do.
It is through education that the biggest differences can be made – and within education, it is all about teachers.
Everyone is keen to get back to as normal as possible, as soon as possible. But some things will stay with us. The use of technology in education will not revert to the status quo ante.
Last year, colleagues from across both Houses of Parliament formed an All-Party Parliamentary Group focused on EdTech, as a forum for tech providers, teachers and the wider education sector, policy makers and parliamentarians.
We recently published our inaugural report, Lessons from Lockdown: what we learned about Education Technology in 2020.
The report found that during lockdown, EdTech could support children’s learning in an array of ways, including: helping pupils with core skills like maths; helping with motivation and organisation; supporting wellbeing; and improving access for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.
However, as the report also noted, the shift online has exposed ‘digital divides’ between different schools and within school communities. A commitment to closing these divides must be a lasting legacy of lockdown – whether that be ensuring all pupils are able to access a secure device and appropriate software, or ensuring that EdTech platforms are zero rated by data providers.
EdTech could support children’s learning in an array of ways... However, as the report also noted, the shift online has exposed ‘digital divides’ between different schools and within school communities.
The potential of EdTech is broad indeed. Most focus, understandably, has been on the potential direct learning benefits for school pupils. Obviously that is fundamental. But in the EdTech strategy that we drew up in 2019 during my time in post at the Department for Education, it was only one of five key opportunity areas we identified. The others were in assessment, admin processes, continuous professional development (CPD), and opening-up lifelong learning.
Too often in the past the introduction of new technologies in education has been associated for some teachers with more work, not less. And certainly this period, effectively running two sets of education in parallel, has been difficult. But there is real potential in technology to ease teacher workloads, and a lot of sector and policy focus needs to go into that.
Less time needed for low-impact work means more for inspirational teaching and coaching, and helping children reach their full potential.
There is real potential in technology to ease teacher workloads, and a lot of sector and policy focus needs to go into that.
Tech can help directly, too, identify areas for attention. And use of a blend of formats can enable a balance, keeping a whole cohort moving together, while enabling individual pupils to develop their understanding at their own pace.
Following the lockdowns, our country – and countries around the world – are more conscious than ever of the unique role of the teaching profession, and the importance of children being in school. We are also all more aware of how technology – smartly deployed – can complement the teacher’s craft.
A recommendation of our report is for the Department for Education to build on its 2019 EdTech Strategy by developing a sector deal, to bring providers, schools and policymakers much closer together.
Now is the right time for a broad debate about what tech can do, how to maximise its potential and minimise the pitfalls.
I am pleased Teach First’s Future Terms series is taking on the subject from a social mobility angle. I look forward to being on the panel for what should be a very interesting and productive discussion on Thursday 25 March, and hope you will be able to come along too.
Teach First is hosting a panel discussion on this topic on Thursday 25 March, at 4.30pm. In attendance will be experts from across the sector, including former Secretary of State for Education Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP. The panel will last one hour, including time to ask questions: