Edtech can’t solve the problems facing education

Edtech has risen from the ashes – but the government’s new strategy won’t solve the funding or workload crises, writes Ed Dorrell
5th April 2019, 12:03am
Edtech Can't Help The Funding & Workload Crisis

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Edtech can’t solve the problems facing education

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/edtech-cant-solve-problems-facing-education

There was a time not so long ago when advocates for edtech in this country could have been forgiven for thinking that their cause was lost.

Ministers such as Nick Gibb, in tandem with the traditionalist wing of the new education establishment, were using all of their authority and powers of persuasion to suppress anything that looked like tech innovation in the classroom.

To be fair, their position was, and is, an understandable reaction to the worst excesses of New Labour-inspired futurism, in which tablets and whizz bangs were distributed as a way of rethinking education and “disrupting” teaching.

But the edtech sector has, rather like a phoenix from the flames, enjoyed an improbable political comeback in the past year or two, crowned on Wednesday with the publication of the Department for Education’s edtech strategy.

There are a few simple reasons for this unlikely reversal of fortunes. Firstly, the edtech sector has admirably reinvented itself as chastened: the marketing is no longer about replacing teachers, and more about helping them. Teachers are no longer being removed: they’re being empowered.

This welcome change in approach has come hand-in-hand with the arrival of a (relatively) young education secretary in the form of Damian Hinds, who appears to be less cynical than some of his more traditional ministerial colleagues and predecessors about digital technology as a whole.

Together, the tech firms and the secretary of state have developed new messaging that works for both of them: that edtech is key to solving the crises of funding and workload. The story, so it goes, is that tech in the classroom is about helping both the school and the teacher to become more efficient.

So far, so good. This new narrative may be expedient for politicians and profitable for investors, but that doesn’t mean it is without merit. The most successful companies in this “space” - and Britain does have some of the very best - are indeed wonderful in helping educators to do more with less.

But we should not allow this story - spinning, even - to go unchallenged. The simple fact is this: the edtech strategy, for all its shiny brochures and smooth ministerial launches, is worth £10 million to the sector. That’s barely the budget of a secondary school. It is essentially nothing.

Of course, some good may come out of it - some useful networking (forgive the pun) may allow for the sharing of best practice and there may be some handy CPD produced - but this is not going to plug the sector’s funding black hole. It’s not even going to come close.

Even if every single school in the country adopted the most cost-effective technological solutions over the next few years, we would still see schools on the breadline, curricula being thinned and teachers being laid off. Even if an extra zero were added to that £10 million figure, I very much doubt that there would be a neat bit of software wizardry that could even dent the 8 per cent cuts experienced by the sector since 2010.

Similarly, there is no magical digital solution to the workload epidemic driving teachers and leaders out of the profession. Of course, there are many ways to improve data management using software, but the problem of entrenched overwork will truly be resolved only if and when we tackle the root cause: the stranglehold that our defective accountability system has on the sector.

Anyone - salesperson or Westminster bigwig - who tries to tell you that solutions to these deep-seated problems can be found at the flick of an internet switch may as well be flogging you snake oil. Don’t buy it.

@Ed_Dorrell

This article originally appeared in the 5 April 2019 issue under the headline “Don’t trust the spin doctors who claim that tech can fix education”

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