By: Mike Smith
The education sector must respond to young people’s growing digital savviness and ultimately enhancing the learning experience
Leaders shouldn’t look to go back to the way things were. Instead, they need to draw on technology to make the learning process better than before.
Stepping up digital investment could unlock benefits not just for their schools, but for the wider economy, too. Our study with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) found that digital investment in education could boost national GDP by £10bn, contributing to a wider £232bn uplift by 2040.
Grasping this opportunity is about getting the basics right, embracing innovation and ensuring it’s underpinned by a first-class IT and security strategy that enables staff and pupils to thrive.
Back to basics
Teaching relies on the seamless interaction between teacher and pupils. And putting the right building blocks in place is crucial for schools to embrace technology.
When it comes to technology, school leaders should start with the nuts and bolts of digital learning. Have classrooms got access to the right quality screens, interactive whiteboards and video set ups? Are teachers confident in using them?
Ensuring the basics are in place, and underpinned with connectivity, is a crucial first step for schools using digital to transform students’ learning experience.
With this in place, augmented and virtual reality could transform what it means to go to school. And education leaders should think ambitiously about their use in the classroom.
They could take history students to see ancient Rome in all its glory. They could allow geography lessons to take place ‘in’ the Amazon rainforest. They could take pupils into the heart of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
We have already glimpsed what can be achieved. Alchemy Immersive collaborated with Durham University to explore the benefits of immersive technology and created a more engaging, immersive learning experience.
For children who might not be able to go on school trips due to health or family circumstances, these technologies could be game changing.
And these aren’t the only innovations creating opportunities.
Conversational AI is allowing pupils to get instant support from bots, receiving personalised and immediate feedback and enabling them to adjust their learning pace accordingly.
UneeQ’s Digital Einstein is a virtual recreation of the renowned scientist capable of answering any question relating to his life, views or science. In future, these ‘digital humans’ could be used to supplement teachers and deliver more personalised learning experiences to pupils.
“In future, these ‘digital humans’ could be used to supplement teachers and deliver more personalised learning experiences to pupils”
Adopting innovation isn’t just about showing a willingness to introduce them. It’s also about building a successful IT strategy. One that can support the connectivity, data and security demands new technologies will bring.
Building the right underlying IT strategy
School leaders also need to think about their broader IT strategy and whether it’s fit for purpose.
Over the last year, schools’ efforts to survive and stabilise and rapidly switch to online learning have been successful. Eighty-one percent of teachers said that their digital skills are now at an ‘advanced’ level after a year of the pandemic, according to Pearson.
But as leaders look towards the rebound from COVID-19, the challenge is now about building an IT strategy that can support blended learning – a mix between digitalised education and traditional face-to-face interaction.
It needs to be capable of supplementing traditional lessons with innovation, giving children access to online materials outside of school hours and providing parents with more visibility over feedback and performance.
To support this over the long-term, school leaders need to look at their connectivity foundations and whether this is giving them the flexibility and agility needed.
They also need to consider how to tackle unequal access to technology. Digital poverty was front of mind for many schools during lockdown, with initiatives like Help for Home Learners and tablet lending schemes established to support digital inclusion. But the problem hasn’t gone away, and education leaders should consider how to ensure that, in adopting new technology, we don’t leave people behind.
Fast, reliable and secure connectivity can solve problems today and give children a brighter tomorrow. It can get them collaborating in the classroom, ensure they’ve got access to vital resources and support innovative technology that can transform learning experiences. Making investments in this area will be crucial.
Protection is another vital element of a successful IT strategy and its importance can’t be underestimated.
Security is key
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has warned that the number of ransomware attacks targeting schools is on the rise.
To create secure learning spaces, it’s vital schools protect children’s, teachers’ and parents’ personal data. Failure to do so could have serious safeguarding consequences and as one senior school decision-maker told us: “Safeguarding is critical, above all else.”
Thirty-seven percent of UK schools expect to increase security spend after the pandemic. That’s more than any other area of technology. But how do they ensure they’re investing in the right solutions?
The right strategy needs to consider several elements. It needs to comply with educational requirements – the solution itself can’t jeopardise the learning experience.
And it needs to be easily understandable for staff and keep up with evolving cyber-threats.
This is why schools need to look at cloud-based approaches to security. This doesn’t just allow IT teams to remove hardware from site but means that security updates can be rolled out automatically. It also brings simplicity and convenience with an easy-to-use digital portal.
With the right investment in security, education leaders can prevent damaging setbacks that will put children and staff at risk and create a safe environment in which everyone can excel.
Unlocking the education revolution
After a tumultuous period for young people, schools shouldn’t look to turn back the clock.
The last year has shown that digital technology has a pivotal role to play in enhancing learning experiences and improving outcomes.
And with VR, AR and AI entering the classroom, new opportunities for immersive learning and being developed all the time.
By showing a willingness to embrace innovation, building a winning IT strategy and getting the security right, school leaders can help every pupil reach their potential and contribute to a better society for all.
Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.