The unlocked potential of education technology

Throughout the pandemic, EdTech has played a central role in supporting blended learning. With this in mind, it is worth considering how technology can also help quickly and effectively address lost-learning, as well as ensure the wellbeing of pupils, writes Al Kingsley

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK, schools were forced to shut their doors for many of their students and adapt to teaching and learning from home. As we pass the one year anniversary of the first national lockdown, the country is beginning to emerge from the pandemic, assess the impact and tentatively look to recovery. What is clear, is that schools, students and teachers have been hugely impacted and as restrictions ease, schools will need to do much more than simply return to the classroom to regain their footing.

Over the coming months, education leaders face complex issues including closing the attainment gap and addressing and supporting student and staff wellbeing. Throughout the pandemic, EdTech has played a central role in supporting blended learning, something we envision will be in place for the foreseeable future. With this in mind, it is worth considering how these resources can also help quickly and effectively address these legacies of Covid-19.

The most pressured of these issues is the need for students to ‘catch-up’, with suggestions from central government of lengthening the school day and shortening the summer holidays to help address the attainment gap. New research from the Education Endowment Foundation suggests primary-age pupils have significantly lower achievement in both reading and maths and ImpactEd’s ‘Lockdown Lessons’ points to similar effects in the secondary sector. It is now more crucial than ever that education providers and schools work together to reduce the attainment gap.

However, I believe that student catch-up should not be prioritised over, or achieved, at the expense of wellbeing. In fact, I believe the two main issues are linked as the wellbeing of both students and teachers is key to delivering change within a school and must come before any attempts to close the attainment gap.

The role of EdTech

The first priority for teachers, leaders and school staff should be to find ways to create time and capacity. EdTech has proven to be a hugely effective tool for teachers throughout the pandemic and this learning should not be lost. By using technology that allows teachers to share resources online, host parents’ virtual evenings and devices with software that allow them to easily transition between school and home teaching and learning, teachers will have the opportunity to be more efficient and flexible. Thus, giving them the headspace and time to support their students as they readjust to school life and start planning for the future.
For students, their first priority should be to reconnect and build on their relationships with friends, peers, teachers, staff and family. Reforming and strengthening these bonds will help to improve their wellbeing and support them as they deal with the challenges created by the pandemic. Facilitated by increased capacity, schools should provide time and space for these social interactions where possible. Only once students feel more comfortable and settled in school, can the process of mitigating any learning loss.

Parents will also play a key role in helping students restore their wellbeing and catch up with their learning. EdTech helped arguably further integrated parents into the educational experience, as parents could more readily access online platforms to see what their child was learning and how they were progressing. Other technologies such as videos, FaceTime and live streaming also allowed parents, especially those who are isolated or less involved in school life, to speak with teachers, read important updates and watch school events. Schools must now harness these technologies to bring parents with them on their journey to recovery, making sure to regularly communicate and support them too.

As part of the process of returning to school, leaders would benefit from conducting online surveys to monitor student, parent and staff wellbeing and analyse how they are finding the transition back to the classroom. This will enable schools to regularly review and adapt their offering to ensure they are providing the best and most appropriate support possible.

There will not be a one-size-fits-all approach and the requirements will be different for every student and school based on a range of factors including the regularity of access to a laptop, computer or tablet. Schools will therefore need to look at and personalise learning and interventions for each student.

Education technology can facilitate this process, playing a vital part in helping schools to track, monitor and assess attainment on an individual basis and across the board to create a baseline through effective spot testing at secondary level and recording observations at primary level. Until baseline tests are conducted and teachers have time to reflect and review lessons learned, the true extent of the attainment gap is not known.
EdTech will also be a critical tool in supporting students to close the attainment gap. For example, secondary schools can use AI (artificial intelligence) to support personalised learning and retrieval practice while primary schools can create additional online resources that children can use at weekends or holidays. Some schools may also use the catch-up fund from the government to purchase additional teaching resources for extra tutoring. There are a whole host of education programmes that can enhance engagement and support learning through non-traditional methods such as Minecraft or Sim City that help do develop additional skills such as critical thinking.

Gaining IT skills

While there are concerns that some of the students’ skills will not have developed at the same rate as their peers during the pandemic, education technology has shown that there is a range of new skills that students have rapidly acquired, including IT and computing skills, creativity, online communications and critical thinking. These are all essential skills for preparing students for their future careers.

So, while there is no doubt that some skills may have fallen behind as a result of the pandemic, there are other skills that have increased which are important for the learners of 2021. Schools will need to find ways to incorporate developing these new skills into the curriculum moving forward.

The year ahead holds many challenges for the education sector but there are beacons of hope from the last year including the amazing resilience of pupils and teachers and the unlocked potential of education technology. From 1-2-1 device rollouts to virtual classrooms, sharing best practice and progress tracking apps, EdTech has the power to play a key role in solving the challenges of wellbeing and the attainment gap.

However, digital technology will need to be understood and implemented correctly to work effectively. Many schools will require a combination of tools and programmes to overcome their hurdles and achieve their goals and will need to work closely with expert organisations and education technology providers to do so. EdTech could transform the way teachers deliver lessons and open the door to a much more creative and stimulating way of learning for pupils - schools just need education leaders and government funding to unlock the way.

Written by Al Kingsley – chair of a multi-academy trust, author, group managing director of NetSupport, speaker and member of Forbes Technology Council.