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Will edtech benefit from Hinds' bite?

Damian Hinds' call to industry for an education tech revolution is fantastic news - but schools need more than rhetoric from the Education Secretary

Posted by Julian Owen | August 20, 2018 | Technology

By Rachel Matthews, Director of International Communications, Instructure

Damian Hinds has again thrown his hat into the ring and challenged the tech industry to launch an ‘education revolution’ for schools colleges and universities.

The Education Secretary has so far demonstrated a vocal sense of willing when it comes to edtech that government hasn’t shown for a long time; and for that he deserves to be commended. As was a common theme in the recent All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education session I attended, having an advocate in government is something both the industry and teachers who see the potential of tech in the classroom have been crying out for.

By talking about the impact classroom technology can have, even in relatively simple terms, you pin your colours to the mast on a topic which has been subject to government mood swings for decades now. One minute it’s at the bottom of the priorities list, with funding issues at crisis levels and schools going without books, the next it’s the answer to the funding crisis.

In a recent edition of the Telegraph, the Education Secretary wrote a byline including the admission that “in the past, governments have been guilty of imposing unwanted technology on schools”.

He went on to name names and specify the target of the ire resulting from past drives for modernisation, saying: “Over a decade ago expensive interactive whiteboards were rolled out to schools, without the support of teachers, and we saw no subsequent rise in pupils’ attainment.”

Unfortunately, Mr Hinds’ education revolution is at risk of being cut from the same cloth, as welcome as his positive sentiment about tech is.

What the two initiatives have in common is the issue of technology without guidance. Using free apps, organising roadshows and having free trials of edtech on portals accessible by schools are certainly part of good policy, but beginning with them is like trying to build the second storey of a house before the ground floor.

"Like so much of the comment coming from the DfE and Mr Hinds over recent days, it’s laudable, but ultimately ends up pointing to the gaps in concrete plans." 

For one, there’s a lack of concrete action. At Instructure we’ve been urging the need for industry, government and schools to work together as part of our Driving Digital Strategy in Schools report. We’d be the first to throw our hats into the ring to be part of free trials for schools, but there’s currently no indication on how industry can get involved and no timeframe either.

Secondly, the announcement from Mr Hinds doesn’t tackle the root issue that led to the rollout of interactive whiteboards being so divisive – namely, a lack of guidance on what edtech solutions can achieve in the classroom, and too little clarity on what good practice using edtech looks like.

The Education Secretary talked about virtual reality trips to the Amazon as a positive example of technology in his byline article. He also said “it’s by no means easy to separate the genuinely useful products from the fads and the gimmicks".

Like so much of the comment coming from the DfE and Mr Hinds over recent days, it’s laudable, but ultimately ends up pointing to the gaps in concrete plans. Yes, it’s hard for schools to identify the useful products. Yes, free trials will help. But more guidance on procurement, specifically identifying where edtech can help, is vital.

The problem is, it takes time and energy from government, drawing on expertise from industry, schools and think-tanks to develop a framework and give more guidance.

I certainly understand the benefit that a speech can have, as a free way to signal intent and rally industry to the cause, and it’s definitely welcome that we have an Education Secretary that sees the value of edtech. However, without providing guidance for schools, there’s a risk we’ll be repeating the mistakes of the interactive whiteboard rollout. Industry is on hand to help with this, but we can’t do it all.

For more on Instructure, please click here.

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