Top U.K. Education Leader: Technology Should Not Replace Teachers

Associate Editor

London

Nicky Morgan, the British education secretary, struck a balance between embracing educational technology and a promise to keep it in its proper place, in her welcome remarks at the world’s largest ed-tech show here.

“This government is really excited about the education technology sector,” Morgan said, as 80 ministers of education from other countries listened from the front rows of the audience. “We want to see it grow, but we’re also thoughtful about how it should be used. We see it as an aid to excellent teachers and schools—not a replacement for them.”

The U.K. hosted the World Education Forum immediately before the opening of the BETT show today, which explains why so many international education leaders convened at the start of the show.

Listening to Morgan’s opening remarks at BETT was reminiscent of some topics one would likely hear in an address by the U. S. Secretary of Education—the importance of expanded broadband access, figuring out how to use data to improve achievement, and the importance of research in decision-making about ed tech.

Where educational technology is “evidence-based and outcomes-driven—where it really works—we will back it all the way,” Morgan said.

But some key differences between the United States and the British education systems are the laser focus here on computer coding as mandatory in its curriculum from kindergarten, and a pervasive concern about some groups using the Internet to “radicalize” students.

In fact, the day before the opening of BETT, Morgan announced the launch of “Educate Against Hate,” a new website to counter extremism and recruitment of young people to causes that might be violent.

Supporting the coding curriculum, the BBC created a pocket-sized codeable computer with motion detection, a built-in compass and Bluetooth technology, which will be given free to every child in year 7 (the last year of middle school, or the first year of high school in the U.K.) Twenty-nine partners collaborated on creating the micro:bit, which is intended to “inspire digital creativity and develop a new generation of tech pioneers,” the BBC indicated on its website.

“Getting these foundations in place [to learn coding] early on is clearly quite vital,” said Morgan, who was wearing a bracelet that incorporated a micro:bit in its design and functionality.
Among other highlights of the minister of education’s speech:
  • The British government is backing broadband with a commitment of £1.3 billion.
  • “Access to search engines is not a substitute for knowledge,” Morgan said.
  • Exports of ed tech from the U.K. grew more than 5 percent last year.
  • The department intends to begin prototyping new systems for data collection, and will work on common data standards to make it easier for schools to share data with the ministry, and with one another, “to enhance what we know, and how quickly we know it.”
  • Online assessments offer opportunities “to lighten teacher workloads as well as collect data … that can be invaluable,” she said. “Assessments can be tailored in real time to the needs of students.”

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