30 March 2021

Time for Britain’s outdated school system to embrace the digital revolution


A pupil falling behind. A teacher spending hours on burdensome administrative tasks. An education system stuck in the Victorian era

Education technology (EdTech) may not solve these problems, but by embracing the technological revolution that has transformed other industries, British schools can become more efficient and relevant for the 21st Century.

The pandemic has contributed to a perception that EdTech just means replacing in-person teaching with Zoom lessons – but there’s more to it than that. Yes, blended learning approaches are providing new means of collaboration, but more fundamentally, technology answers questions which have troubled politicians for decades. Like how can schools engage pupils and parents from marginalised communities, stop children falling behind and equip them for their future careers?

A plethora of studies show a strong link between family engagement with education and attainment. Technology can help connect families and schools. The software ‘Show My Homework’, for example, allows teachers to set homework through an app visible to both pupils and parents. This creates transparency and accountability, but it also allows teachers to share resources easily by setting the same homework for different classes simultaneously.

For children falling behind their peers, artificial intelligence has an answer. A pupil can download an app where they are confronted with, for example, numerous mathematics questions. For each correct answer, the AI learns that the child is gaining traction on that topic or technique and reduces its focus on the area. With each wrong answer, the AI learns that the child needs more attention in this area and can create tailored, one-to-one resources for the child to further their learning. All these data can then be fed back to the teacher so they can track the progress of their pupils and spot trends in their learning early.

Aside from improving children’s academic potential, there are immense benefits to be realised in familiarising them early on with digital technology. It has found its way into most industries, and 90% of jobs will require digital skills in the next two decades. Why wait until employees may need to balance retraining with work and a family, when they could be learning the skills they need at school?

EdTech can transform careers advice in education. Aged sixteen, I asked the designated careers teacher at my secondary school which A-level subjects I should choose if I wanted to become a lawyer. He answered ‘Probably ones with reading and writing’. Thank you Mr. Morris! The point is that apps exist which pool exceptional guidance on jobs, universities and apprenticeships and can be tailored to a pupil’s grades, interests and the current job market, vastly improving the quality of careers advice given to pupils.

EdTech, particularly the proliferation of mobile devices with an App Store, is also a turning point for teachers. Historically, teachers would embark on an arduous process to install software on school devices whereas children can now do this themselves on their own devices and save teachers valuable time and resources, allowing them to focus on practical teaching, not admin tasks. A simple example would be a reduction in time spent in the soul-draining process of photocopying.

As a governor at a Bristol primary school, I also witness first-hand the utility of voice feedback to pupils on work which can be replayed to parents at home instead of having to decode a litany of scribblings in a child’s exercise book.

Inevitably, some schools and colleges will be more ‘tech-savvy’ than others. To rebalance the technological capability between schools, the DfE could identify schools prospering in their use of technology and connect them with less successful schools for mentoring purposes.

Sensible use of technology in education is a catalyst for change, but it is not without its barriers. Schools should be allowed significant autonomy in selecting the technology it uses. There is no harm in schools and colleges sharing feedback on different pieces of technology, tools and software, facilitated by DfE guidance. But the buck stops there. We all have that one relative who is cajoled into buying a new device resulting in endless phone calls to family members asking for help and usually ends up disposing of it altogether. The same could be true of schools, who are forced to use technology but fail to see the benefits in their pupils.

Therefore, the sooner that schools, colleges and individual teachers embrace the digital technology revolution, the faster we can rescue British education from its 19th century prison.

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Jude D’Alesio is a Law student at the University of Bristol, a councillor on Long Ashton Parish Council and a school governor.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.