The UK Government recently issued a new education technology strategy.
It says better broadband and technology in schools and colleges will improve life for staff, students and the country’s education technology sector.
It also published a range of guidance documents to help schools and colleges improve their use of available technology, including broadband.
That sounds great. In a digital world, surely children and young people need to know about tech?
After all, tech already plays a huge role in the work and leisure time of current pupils, as it will throughout their lives.
But there are issues for schools to consider before they spend money on shiny new toys or all-you-can-download broadband contracts…
Do the students know more than the staff?
One issue is that current school and college students have often used tech from birth.
They may already know more about it than many of their teachers, thanks to the generosity of their parents.
Research by Ofcom showed that in 2017, use of a tablet computer at home was widespread even among children aged between three and seven.
Perhaps even more remarkably, 83 per cent owned a smartphone by the age of 12.
Separate research suggests technology often gives moderate benefits for moderate investment, and is best used alongside traditional teaching rather than as a replacement.
But educators could still benefit from using education technology to streamline and manage their workloads.
Cloud applications let teachers and admin staff access work from anywhere, at any time – ideal for days when they’re stuck at home due to ill health or bad weather.
Cloud-hosted learning applications let educators share learning materials, feedback and collaborate with students online – again, from the comfort of their sofas or beds.
Nevertheless, it’s not all good news.
Cloud computing inevitably creates data protection and security issues.
Worse, the poor quality of school broadband services will be thrown into sharp focus.
Top of the class
The Government says it plans to fund a new fibre connection for each of the several hundred schools it has identified as being most in need, within the next two years.
It’ll also speed up the roll-out of super-fast, full fibre connections to schools in general.
Officials understand the issues affecting education technology.
These include security worries, and the challenges of numerous users connecting at the same time.
But many schools and colleges buy their IT services from re-sellers and consultants.
So the big challenge now is to turn educators (many of whom haven’t worked outside education for years, if ever) into expert buyers of educational technology.
How will schools tell the difference between tech that delivers real value, and tech that merely claims to do so?
How do they know broadband connections are fit for purpose now, let alone into the future?
And how can they be certain networks and data are secure?
Could do better
The government strategy document claims parts of the UK’s education sector have shown good practice, but admits these are ‘pockets’.
That suggests room for improvement – and improvement matters.
While the impact of technology in mainstream education seems moderate so far, specialist applications like assistive and sensory technology transform learning for vulnerable students.
Meanwhile, everyday business experience demonstrates the ways in which good broadband and effective technology save time and money, while also driving up productivity.
It seems the government’s new strategy brings opportunities for educators, IT providers and tech companies.
It remains to be seen whether they’ll be able to use them in a way which gives today’s pupils the tools required for tomorrow’s world.