A fresh start for edtech? Maybe. But the road is bumpy

Since the coronavirus crisis took hold, an extraordinary amount has been achieved in a staggeringly short period of time by schools, teachers and edtech companies – but more leadership is needed from the centre

Ty Goddard

Computers in schools can benefit but only sometimes

In a matter of days, established structures, routines and relationships across education have changed in an unimaginable fashion 

While schools across the country have remained open as emergency childcare centres, for most students, the school gates are now shut for the foreseeable.

This was a pattern we have now seen replicated in more than 140 countries around the world. Education has been turned upside down. 

The questions now being asked are whether you can protect learning at a time of national emergency? Can you truly connect educators working from home with their pupils? 

Could a shift to distance learning – be it recorded or in real time – or the setting of work by email fill the teaching and learning void being experienced by children, young people and students? 

One problem schools are now attempting to overcome is that many lack the infrastructure, experience and training to use digital resources to support a wholesale move to online teaching at short notice. 

Despite heroic efforts, sound leadership and the good intentions of education technology companies, it has been a gigantic task for the majority of schools to shift models of delivery and support for students.  

Even for those schools who do have the resource and the experience of online learning it has been a mammoth challenge – and that was always going to be the case.

Generosity and solidarity are also evident as digital leaders share resources and approaches with anyone who wanted them. New communities have formed from nowhere.

Leadership from the very top – government 

But I would like to see bold investment and co-ordination across Whitehall led by Downing Street to really set a sprint towards super-fast connectivity to schools, pupils' homes and investment in actual devices for students. The Department for Education, too, has done much to think through our recent national edtech strategy – now it needs to own and explain it. Our wonderful edtech businesses need to unite to enable schools to properly understand new products; not blizzard. 

If our thriving edtech sector is to get through this, save jobs and bounce back at some point, we will need to understand that our sector is large and small – yes, from Silicon Valley, but also well-established and based all over our country. Relationships of trust between edtech business and schools will help get us through.  

A new world is shaping; it has been a bumpy ride but connection, whether through paper, email, video, digital, voice, or whatever you call it, is vital. We could call it “the social”: the interaction and relationship between educator and student becoming more pivotal than ever. 

The commitment of school leaders as they craft responses to the fast moving circumstances now needs to be matched by government everywhere – agile and cross-cutting policy development at speed. Silos and snails won't match this moment.

Schools and colleges need support, peer-to-peer training and a national edtech support network to learn from. Don't, however, underestimate the newness of the new normal for policy-makers and civil servants.

What we do know, however, is that you have to lead in new ways.  

If we are looking at the start of a sustainable adoption of education technology it will be good news in the long term and may yet prove positive and useful in the short term.

But all beginnings are a challenge. And beginning now is tougher still. 

We celebrate all those educators globally, responding in whatever way they can, to the fierce intensity of now.

Ty Goddard is executive chair of Edtech UK

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