Sarah Timmis, Researcher, Reform

The world of work is changing. A central issue for educators today is equipping every pupil with the skills they need for the future workplace. Currently, too many are being left behind. Last week, new evidence found that fewer children are gaining the digital skills that employers and the government say are vital, and that pupils from poorer backgrounds are being adversely affected.

New ideas are urgently needed and Education Technology (EdTech) provides a promising source of innovation. With the right implementation and a focus on outcomes, EdTech can enhance teaching and learning and help equip every child with the skills they need for the future.

Everyone wants to see a school system which equips each pupil with skills they need later in life. However, this is not the reality. By the end of secondary school, the most disadvantaged students are on average two years of learning behind their better-off peers.

This closes many doors in the workplace. Unemployed adults are twice as likely to have weak literacy skills as those in full-time employment. In 20 years, 90 per cent of jobs will entail some element of digital skills yet, according to the Nominet Trust, those least likely to have digital skills are also most likely to be facing multiple forms of disadvantage.

Research also shows that children from disadvantaged backgrounds feel less control over and less involvement in their learning, both of which are seen as key to thriving in an unpredictable future workplace.

EdTech can enhance both learning and teaching to provide disadvantaged pupils with the skills they need for the future. Research has shown that technology in the classroom supports pupils to develop a range of hard and soft digital skills, such as creativity and innovation, research and IT fluency.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can personalise learning, supporting pupils to develop in areas they find difficult. It can choose appropriate tasks for individuals and react dynamically to how they deal with these tasks.

Providing pupils with this personalised and adaptive feedback can enhance students’ engagement, motivation and self-confidence. The right policy could ensure that technology is available to every child to foster these skills, meaning those without access at home do not miss out.

Teachers can use the data from this technology to gain smart insights into how each pupil is progressing and stop individuals being left behind. Data collected on pupils’ attitudes to school, for example, have helped predict those who are most likely to stop attending, as much as 12 months in advance, so that teachers can intervene to keep them in school.

Teachers can also support individual development through online assessments. There is evidence of unconscious bias against disadvantaged pupils in formative assessment, meaning disadvantaged pupils are often not challenged enough because they are thought to be less capable. Online approaches can help teachers be fairer and ensure pupils from all backgrounds have more equal opportunities to gain the right skills for the future.

Technology can further enhance teaching through shifting teacher priorities. Adopting user-friendly technology, which is designed around teacher needs, can reduce administrative workloads. This gives teachers more time to focus on pupils that need additional support and ensure every child is properly developing key skills.

Schools adopting technology have managed to cut the working day by 25 minutes and cut the time teachers spend monitoring homework by 95 per cent.

This could be transformative for schools in disadvantaged areas, which are under particular pressure to retain teachers, who are currently leaving the profession due to unmanageable workloads.

Embedding EdTech into schools will need a change in mindset. Schools have been sold gimmicks in the past, leading to a level of scepticism. Debate around technology can also be polarised around certain issues.

Last week, Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, backed a ban of mobile phones in school, based on the “low level disruption” they can cause. These comments risk being misinterpreted and leading education professionals to tar all technology with the same brush. Teachers need better training to understand how technology can be implemented effectively to tackle specific issues and support disadvantaged pupils.

There is reason to be optimistic. EdTech is increasingly supported by a sound evidence base. Discussions around EdTech are moving away from a focus on new gadgets to one that is prioritising evidence and outcomes. This makes it a promising source of innovation.

Sarah Timmis, Researcher at Reform

Copyright © 2018 FE News

About Reform: An independent, non-party, charitable think tank whose mission is to set out a better way to deliver public services and economic prosperity.

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