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Education Revolution?

For years there has been a background anticipation of 'education revolution’. One in which technology will initiate a ‘radical’ change. There can be no doubt that the education ecosystem is adapting. Well-worn methodologies and pedagogies are reaching their limits and in our search for a solution, technology is playing an increasingly prominent role. The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly sped up this digital transformation. Moreover, it’s done more than just teach us the necessity of being digital native; it changed mind-sets.

Last week, I attended two brilliant education conferences: “What is blocking real change in Education” from SHAPE Education and “The Great North Yorkshire EdTech Show 2021” from North Yorkshire Education Services. Speakers and educational visionaries from around the world discussed the effectiveness and impact of technology to support learning, and more significantly, how to maintain the momentum going forward. What does this mean for our ‘revolution’? That is the premise of this article.

Children egg and spoon raceWhat did we learn from the pandemic with respects to education technology?  Establishments had to adapt very quickly to working in a very different way. This reactive stance gave a sort of emergency feel to how technology was being used, with often little time for market research and, initially for most, without a digital strategy in place. As we gather evidence of progress and adaptions made, our minds turn to the future. How will we translate skills gained back into the physical classroom? What is the right balance between modernising education and disrupting it? How do we leverage our potential with the existing capacity? This was a key focus at The Great North Yorkshire EdTech Show 2021.

The first key note speaker was Mark Anderson: an experienced Computing leader across the education ecosystem, multi-award-winning blogger, author and ICT consultant (ICT Evangelist). He reflected passionately on how the pandemic threw us in the “deep end.” Thinking forward he spoke about how the pace of change hasn’t been that great. One of his key recommendations for future development was around the provision of CPD opportunities. “Without providing rich, frequent, timely and helpful training opportunities, teacher’s aren’t going to use the equipment, tools or ideas you provide them with…to use them in ways that are impactful and doable.” He reiterated regularly with respect to EdTech, “It’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it”. After googling ‘What is a Bananarama?’ I returned to hear Mark elaborate on the importance of digital strategy. “You need a culture built around strategy. Strategy and change management are paramount to make it successful. Make sure the EdTech you use is worth the effort-is the juice worth the squeeze?”

Al Kinglsey, Multi-Academy Trust Chair, added to this; “You need to manage a timeline for change. Also, when you are looking for a solution it’s important to be open minded. Don’t limit your progress by thinking about how you are operating now.”

The conference also heard from Caroline Wright, Director General BESA and Co-Chair of the DfE EdTech Leadership Group. She extolled the potential impact of EdTech and implementation “Tech can empower pupils and support wellbeing. EdTech should be an intrinsic part of the school day. It’s more than just the curriculum.” One aspect she wished to amend was free resources. "There's a big issue about school choice. ‘Free' government funded resources narrow a school's options; they are unable to continue previous collaborations. I would recommend funding should go straight to schools to use with autonomy and enable them to make choices that are best for their school."  Jon Smith, Pobble, echoed this at the SHAPE Education event with: “It’s about enhancing and extending the pedagogies that already exist in schools.” The NYES team also spoke about suitability of product. Keren Wild, Head of NYES Digital, said: “One size doesn’t fit all. It’s important to choose products that can flex, are low entry and scalable. Work with people like BESA to make sure it’s the right product for the school.” Louise Burke, NYES Innovation Manager, added to this with “Every school’s needs differ. Develop a digital strategy to really look at the foundations of what will benefit your school. Which technology is most appropriate?”

Nick Deacon Elliot, VP Boxfish, added balance by offering a cautionary tale to help us consider that our EdTech revolution might have a dark side after all. A timely inclusion considering that cyber-crimes against education establishments have become more prevalent and widely reported in the last few weeks. He spoke about how the recent rise in attacks is because education attacks are because they are “easy targets”. He added: “The attackers have no mercy. 95% of all successful cyber-attacks are caused by human error and that there has been a big spike in sophisticate attacks.”

So if not now, when will technology truly disrupt education? Will it ever Netflix our Blockbuster? Why haven’t we achieved the envisioned personalised learning Utopia? What is blocking real change in education? This question formed the entirety of the Shape Education event and generated some surprising answers. The audience of educators voted the following as their top three blockers to real change:

  • Mind-set- fear of risk and change
  • Existing infrastructures
  • Political support and leadership

 

Jon Smith, Pobble, also considered ‘time’ to be a significant roadblock. “You need time to consider and analyse. Teachers don’t have the time to be innovative. They need more time to explore.” He also spoke about an innovative funding model in Australia in which schools are directly given money to try out new technological solutions. So are we merely at a stage of revelation rather than revolution?

Take solace in knowing that there is a revolution going on after all. But it is not about education technology. It is about learning. It is people taking learning into their own hands. The most reflective EdTech products and companies are focused solely on their users — people who want to learn something. And this is a powerful force to harness. In the end, the education revolution might be one that comes from below and takes unforeseen routes. Looking at established education ecosystems won’t be the way to gauge its impact. Real changes and disruptions usually come ‘from below’. It has been the many individuals that have decided to adopt changes, not the politicians. Students are currently the most active in this change process. The student isn't an object or recipient of education anymore, but the main character of a personal learning journey. Mohit Midha, Manga High, spoke at the SHAPE Education event about how technology has changed the way our pupils’ minds work. “Their brains are wired differently. They live in a digitally personalised world. It is alien them to learn at the same pace and in the same way as other children. Their personalised learning pathway needs to be interactive, social and self-paced with instant feedback.” Education is a transformative experience that aligns the fundamental right to learn with every person’s self-determination. It can no longer be an activity restricted to a school, physical or otherwise.

Children in classroomEducators often struggle to find a consensus on what ‘education’ truly means. Valerie Hannon, The Innovation Unit, described it as “learning to thrive in a transforming world”. No previous generation has been more equipped or informed to disrupt the narrative that we are told about education; its economistic truth that has endured since the Victorian times no longer suits our “transforming world”. As time-honoured limitations are exposed, brought more sharply into focus by the pandemic, a new education paradigm is forming. This is not just about classroom based learning with robots or questioning the existence of teachers. It is about redefining our understanding of education itself; cultivation of skills beyond a determined school day to an unceasing process of personal development. The time for education revolution is now. Andreas Schelicher, OECD, poignantly said “It’s not build back better; it’s build forward differently.” Are you ready?

By Samantha Starling, Innovation and Intelligence Officer