Casey Farquharson, Founder, IDEAS Bus

Let’s commence with the facts on ground.

Over £15bn has been spent on educational technology in the past decade. The average education technology budget for schools is £900m per annum. And yet, whilst some believe there has been a reasonable improvement in basic digital skills for those aged between 15 and 24, when one looks at the facts on ground, it is clear there is a long way to go before we reach the desired destination.

Desired Destination

Which is? A place in which all children in the UK are not only computer-savvy, but well equipped with the knowledge, understanding and skills to succeed in the digital world.

However, there are several obstacles that must be overcome in order to attain such dizzy heights.

First and foremost is the simple fact that the style and delivery of education hasn't changed much since the Education Act of 1880.

Not only does the national curriculum need to be more practical and relevant to the skills our children will require when they eventually enter the work space, but far more emphasis needs to be placed on empowering both pupils and teachers with the necessary digital skills to succeed in the digital age. 

Our children are still learning like machines, with far too much onus on simply memorising and regurgitating as opposed to more practical, hands-on learning. We recently carried out a survey of people between the ages of 25 to 45 - asking them what they would like to change about their school education experience, and over 80% of them identified a lack of preparedness for the real world as one of their biggest regrets; and one which schools can adequately resolve by providing more pragmatic learning experiences and more courses with actual work experience.

The majority of teachers continue to struggle to use the technology available as they simply do not have the confidence to use it. Over 67% of primary and secondary school teachers believe they cannot teach coding because of a lack of skills and technical know-how.

In fact, during a recent meeting with the head of ICT of one particular school, she informed me that there is so much unused technology in their cupboards as a result of their teachers not knowing how to use them.

As John Galloway, an advisory teacher who uses technology to teach children with special educational needs puts it:

"One of the biggest barriers to technology adoption is teachers being given the time to be trained to use it."

Research published by BESA in January 2017 revealed that over 60% of teachers had earmarked training in technology as one of their key aims for the year.

Technology innovation and development is moving at an alarming speed; and unfortunately if parents and teachers are not able to teach our children how to use the technology on the ground, then not only will they be fatally left behind but they will also end up utilising the devices available in the wrong way.

The health and wellbeing of most of our children is in a perilous state, at best. According to the results of a survey conducted by the NSPCC, live streaming sites with particularly dangerous and harmful content such as suicide, self-harm, and bullying revealed especially frightening statistics of 18%, 31%, and 46% respectively.

Furthermore, the dangers and perils of social media have become all too clear. Not only are our children's self-worth battered on a daily basis but their reliance on others' approval and 'likes' has become a severe addiction.

The final fact on the ground that we must pay attention to is the percentage of children that are taking ICT for GCSE. Only 20% of pupils are taking ICT for GCSE; and out of that 20%, only 11% are girls.

In his book, The Global Achievement Gap, Dr. Tony Wagner identifies seven key skills and attributes that every child needs to survive in the work place:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective oral and written communication
  6. Accessing and analysing information
  7. Curiosity and imagination

Let's focus on these three elements: Creativity, Social Skills, and Critical Thinking.

Creativity

We have viewed creativity as a skill that only the strange, gifted and special few possess for far too long. In reality, not only is it an essential component of most roles in the workplace but it is something our children can cultivate and develop.

Education Technology needs to develop more modes of learning that stimulate children's imagination. There are several types of technology, such as virtual reality, videography and writing software that can be used to support learning in order to increase creativity.

But the key is to remember that technology must always be used in a supporting capacity as against being the foundation.

Social Skills

One of the greatest dangers we face today is the decline in communication skills as a result of our children spending way too much time on games and apps.

According to the Guardian newspaper, "more than a quarter of children starting primary school are unable to communicate in full sentences, as concerns grow about the amount of time they are spending in front of screens."

Education technology needs to help address this challenge by utilising more software that encourages and promotes reading. What we have witnessed during the past decade is a decline in our reading culture.

This unfortunate trend needs to be tackled quickly. More software needs to be created so that reading can once more be seen in a gleaming light of fun, excitement and pleasure, as against a gloomy one of school and work.

Furthermore, there needs to be more focus on projects and tasks that require team-work. When our children work in teams they learn key skills such as listening, influencing and persuading, negotiating and the importance of collaboration.

As well as children being encouraged to work together, more educational games that require interaction and team-work should be developed.

Critical Thinking

In an age largely monopolised by YouTube, Instagram, SnapChat, Google and Facebook, most young people are not only thinking less, but are ignorant of the many dangers and pitfalls of social media.

It is absolutely vital that education technology finds more ways to empower children to think both independently and critically.

Coding is one of the most effective ways with which we can help our children to think critically. Due to its very essence of logic and identifying how to get things to perform specific tasks, coding is the perfect skill to cultivate and develop problem-solving mindsets and thinking outside the box.

The wonderful thing about coding is that it has no boundaries; and hence constantly encourages children to think more creatively.

Unfortunately, although the computing curriculum touches on coding as part of the national curriculum, it does so in a way that is very confusing and out of reach for most teachers!

However, social enterprises such as www.CommunityCodingClub.org.uk are committed to helping schools with this topic providing after-school coding clubs to schools across the UK.

To identify the solutions for overcoming education technology’s current travails without addressing the key matter of helping teachers use technology effectively in the classroom would be a huge travesty.

As pointed out earlier, the majority of teachers right across the nation lack the skills, confidence, time and know-how to use technology effectively in the classroom. There is only one way to resolve this matter; and that is to teach our teachers.

As this is a problem that needs to be tackled as quickly as possible, www.Commun-IT.org.uk recently launched a new initiative that helps schools in the Brent, Watford, Harrow, and Ealing areas by providing free trainers to teach students and teachers alike the computing curriculum one day per week for the whole school year. The objective is to upskill everyone.

Despite the huge investments in all manner of technology, education technology isn't where it should be.

However, the present lapses can quickly be rectified by the following:

  1. Educational apps, games, and blended learning methods that promote team-work and greater social interaction
  1. Educational software, apps and games that encourage children to read and write
  1. Project focus activities that not only unleash hidden talents and potential but also significantly improve social skills
  1. Coding – empowering children with computational thinking that promotes creative problem-solving mindsets
  1. Invest in the necessary resources to teach teachers
  1. Educate children about the dangers and pitfalls of social media
  1. Equip schools with the necessary hardware and software
  1. Invest in the social enterprises that are really making a difference on the ground

Casey Farquharson, Founder, IDEAS Bus

About The IDEAS Bus: An interactive educational platform (on wheels!) designed to help educators discover the latest cutting-edge learning technology and students to get hands on coding, tech and digital media experience. The big yellow bus visits schools, taking both the technology and the experts direct to the teachers and students. Teachers can discover the latest innovations in Edtech, helping them to deliver lessons that will inspire and inform. Students can attend a series of practical lessons facilitated by the IDEAS Bus technology experts and using the cutting-edge tech in the bus.

The IDEAS Bus aims to help enhance the link between education and technology, enabling teachers to provide the tools and information their students will need in order compete in the global jobs market, and to close the gap between the demands of industry and the ability of future employees.

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