COVID has clearly forced a rethink on the role of technology in education. The longstanding minister for school standards, Nick Gibb, who has until recently shown little enthusiasm for technology, announced in January that the Government is exploring a strategy for the creation of “a more resilient education system based on firm digital and technological foundations”. But what will this mean in practice, and how will this agenda be advanced in a department where the digital agenda is far behind departments like health?
As pupils were ordered to stay at home this January, the question of a crisis in education became a reality. Nobody needs reminding that pupils’ education has now seen almost a year of huge disruption, exacerbated by personal traumas and reduced social interactions. No group of pupils is affected more than disadvantaged students, and many who fall into this category also lack the technological and familial support to transition smoothly to a remote or home learning environment.
A January report by the Sutton Trust found that just 5% of state school teachers say all their students have adequate access to devices for remote learning. Parents on lower incomes are twice as likely as more well-off parents to find homeschooling harder now than in March 2020. Most worryingly, 85% of teachers think the lockdown and associated disruption will increase the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers. This is corroborated by other research across the education sector, not least from the Education Policy Institute, who has researched extensively the impact of lockdown measures on the attainment gap.
While the picture looks bleak for closing the divide, there is an opportunity for a reset in thinking to ensure that some of these challenges and barriers are eroded in the years ahead. Most starkly, there is a huge opportunity to upgrade the education system to give a greater role to digital and technology infrastructure, and levelling up access to these tools for the most disadvantaged.
To coin a phrase, in every crisis there lies opportunity. At least, that seems to be the thinking of School Standards Minister, Nick Gibb, following his speech at BettFest, a virtual EdTech event on the 20th January. Gibb is a renowned educational conservative, with a proclivity for traditional policies and a broad tech-scepticism. For example, he has favoured a ban on mobile phones in schools. However, the current pandemic and related crises appear to have triggered a rethink for Gibb. During the event, he said that the Government was exploring a strategy for the creation of “a more resilient education system based on firm digital and technological foundations”.
Gibb went on to say that the Government was not looking at the use of technology for the sake of it, but for using it as a means to support the delivery of “a consistently high-quality education system”. The EdTech sector, who may have found the Government snail-paced in its adoption of technology in recent years (particularly since Gavin Williamson replaced the more tech-enthusiastic Damian Hinds), this may just signal a turning point.
While it is still early days for this strategy, the effects of inadequate digital and technology infrastructure are being felt by pupils every day. Therefore, the time is now for the EdTech sector to engage with the Government to help it develop and deliver a strategy that is right not just for pupils now, but for the pupils of the future. ‘Build back better’ has become the slogan of policymakers across the Johnson administration, and the crisis facing the education system offers a prime opportunity to put this into practice with a legacy of technological solutions.
If you are an EdTech provider with an interest in what this strategy could look like, or you would like to establish relationships with stakeholders to amplify your voice in this area, please do get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 020 7340 1150.