Britain’s Ed. Secretary Calls for “Revolution” in School Tech, and New Ideas From Industry

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British ed sec calls for new commitment from industry

Britain’s education secretary says far too few of his country’s schools are reaping benefits from school technology, and he is urging private sector companies to help the government identify and test potentially innovative programs, and then ramp them up.

Damian Hinds, a member of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet, this week issued what he called a challenge to industry “to launch a revolution” in schools and in higher education. 

In a statement on the government’s website and an op-ed in the U.K’s Telegraph, Hinds said there’s reason to be encouraged by the changes ed-tech has brought to some schools throughout the U.K., in its ability to enliven student lessons and cut the time teachers spent buried in administrative work.

But those pioneering examples are the extreme minority, he said. His government needs the help of not only U.K. tech businesses, but also Silicon Valley companies like Apple and Microsoft to foster new ed-tech models that can be evaluated rigorously. Hinds named five areas where he believes the ed-tech industry should focus:

  • Improving assessment to make it more “effective and efficient”;
  • Bolstering teachers’ practices to improve equity and better academic outcomes;
  • Revamping teacher training and development, and giving educators the ability to “learn and develop more flexibly”;
  • Using tech to reduce the burden of educators’ “non-teaching” responsibilities; and
  • Helping individuals who aren’t in formal education systems get high-quality online education.

“Schools, colleges and universities have the power to choose the tech tools which are best for them and their budgets,” Hinds wrote. “But they cannot do this alone. It’s only by forging a strong partnership between government, technology innovators and the education sector that there will be sustainable, focused solutions which will ultimately support and inspire the learners of today and tomorrow.”

Hinds called out some uses of ed-tech in Britain as models to emulate.

At the Shireland Collegiate Academy in the Birmingham area, for instance, apps and software have been used to greatly reduce the bureaucratic load on teachers. The head teacher of the school says many schools have sought to copy its practices.

This fall, the secretary said his department will work with a teacher’s college, the British Educational Suppliers Association, and others to develop an online portal to give free software trials for schools, and to create improved online training for educators. The department will also bring business and school officials together in a series of “regional demonstrator roadshows,” Hinds said.

The director general of the educational suppliers’ group, Caroline Wright, said there had been “eight long years with next-to-no government guidance on the use of ed-tech in education,” but that “2018 looks set to deliver a change of fortune.”

In an e-mail to Marketplace K-12, Wright said the ed-tech companies chosen to deliver free software trials to schools and for participation in the “demonstrator” projects will need to have been registered with BESA—meaning they have been reviewed for quality—before participating. Among the factors BESA looks at when judging the vendors: the stability of their finances, their customer service, and the length of time they’ve worked in U.K. schools.

Wright said in a statement issued by her group that attitudes toward ed-tech in Britain have become unnecessarily polarized.

“All-too-often we have seen an over-simplistic knee-jerk backlash against the use of technology in schools in recent times,” Wright argued. “These anti-tech adversaries cite mistakes made [years ago] when shiny new pieces of tech were introduced into classrooms without effective training or support for teachers.”

Educators and companies need to learn from those mistakes, she said, “but we must also not fail to recognize the power that technology has to inspire young minds and free-up teacher time to focus on the delivery of high-quality teaching and learning practice.”

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Photo: Central London’s skyline with St Paul’s Cathedral. –Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

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