UK Education and Technology: Do Schools Need To Change?
Information Technology (IT) has transformed almost every aspect of our lives. We work, play and learn with digital tools that were unimaginable even five or ten years ago. Our schools, however, are only starting to catch up. Education remains one of the last sectors to avoid digital disruption.
Digital technology has powerful implications for learning. It opens opportunities to simplify existing tasks while revolutionising others. IT-enhanced education provides an inbuilt avenue to ensure students become digitally literate. This is fast becoming as important as reading and maths proficiency in the modern workplace.
To adequately implement these opportunities, schools face challenges. Funding, safety, training, infrastructure improvements and the adaptation of processes must all be addressed where change is often slow and, in some cases, faces resistance.
It is appropriate to approach change in education with caution. No cohort of children deserves to be the guinea pigs trialling a new approach to learning. We do our children no favours, however, through ignoring IT. At best, neglecting change misses opportunities to improve. At worst, it allows old problems to continue and enables new ones to compound.
Do Schools Need to Change?
Education is a prized asset within the UK economy. It has an estimated annual export valuation of £19 billion. The UK boasts 3 of the world's top 10 centres of higher education. In the most recent PISA comparison, however, 15-year-olds in the UK educational system had slipped in maths and reading rankings. Although within the top 30, we lag behind several of our European counterparts. There are several indications that the current system is faltering under the demands of the modern world.
- Approximately 60% of employers feel that their recent graduate hires did not ‘display proficient professionalism, work ethic or communication skills’, Job Outlook 2018 report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers
- Educational outcomes and opportunities are still unequal across the country and within schools. Students that qualify for free school meals are 27% less likely to obtain five or more passing GCSEs at grades A* to C. Half of these students are segregated to only one-fifth of all schools.
- One-in-ten students drop out of University without obtaining a degree — a rate that has continued to grow over the last 5 years.
What Does Change Mean?
The application of digital technology in education can reference use of digital tools as learning aids. It can reference the use of technology by teachers for non-instructional purposes. It can reference the digitalisation of administration.
Non-instructional digitalisation provides results aligned with those we see in other sectors. These include:
- Improved communication
- Efficiency of processes
- Improved tracking and analysis of outcomes
The opportunities for digital technology in the classroom deliver more revolutionary outcomes. It enables three things:
- When used properly, technology creates a more dynamic and engaging learning environment.
- Technology opens the door to teaching strategies that were previously impossible, particularly a more personalised approach to learning and the ability to access learning material outside of the classroom.
- The use of technology in the classroom improves baseline student digital literacy without having to dedicate more time to that subject specifically.
Summary: Caution is Warranted, But IT Can Deliver Improvements The Schools Need
Changes to curriculum and teaching methodologies are not new, nor are they limited to technology. Teachers and administrators should approach IT with this in mind. Integrating technology into education, or even embarking on radical IT-enabled transformation such as ‘flipped classrooms’, is not fundamentally different than deciding on ‘grammar-translation’ or ‘emersion’ based approaches to teaching languages.
Integration into a wider learning strategy is key to using IT to deliver successful outcomes. Overuse of technology has been shown to have a negative impact. IT must be applied selectively and flexibly to complement teaching strategies. Technology is not itself a strategy. It has to be selectively engaged for a purpose. It can be flexibly applied and purposely avoided to curate the best learning environment for a particular teaching strategy.
Educational literature has long argued that school engagement and satisfaction are significant factors driving academic outcomes and student retention rates. Technology has the potential to equalise and improve the learning environment. It can build an engaging classroom that is personalised and responsive in ways not previously imaginable. The world is changing and the classroom must keep pace. Pulling schools into the 21st century may be the key to improving outcomes for teachers and students.