'Let's not waste this opportunity to embrace edtech'

Teachers and students are now using edtech more than ever - this shouldn't change after coronavirus, says Ruth Gilbert

Ruth Gilbert

Coronavirus: Let's not waste this opportunity to embrace edtech, writes Ruth Gilbert

Having been unexpectedly thrown into the world of home-schooling last year – well before the Covid-19 crisis – I thought that as a qualified teacher and having had a long career in education, it wouldn’t be too much of an issue.

However, I came to realise that feeling compelled to follow the national curriculum to the letter was not necessarily the best way forward for either my daughter or myself. It became apparent that what I needed to do was reignite her desire to learn, in a way that supported her physical and mental health as well as her academic development.

This for me was an opportunity to help my daughter pursue some of the things that really interest her, opening up a new world of learning that didn’t revolve around a traditional classroom. This brought with it a huge number of positives such as building her capacity to learn independently and encouraging her to think more widely around different topics.


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The value of edtech amid coronavirus college closures

With most children in the world now embarking on a similar home-schooling journey (albeit temporary), we, as teaching professionals, must help them to make the most of this learning freedom opportunity.

Many parents will be feeling overwhelmed right now and will be looking to teachers for guidance and reassurance as to how best to support their children’s learning during this period. What we should be telling them is that this is, in fact, a golden opportunity for education in this country.

It is a time to encourage children to forget about tests, exams and constant assessment, and instead to focus on things which really interest and inspire them. For some children, this may be a maths challenge; for others, a nature or art project. The point is, it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation – it’s bespoke learning.

Technology is key to this new world of home learning and we must encourage parents and students to embrace it. There is a myriad of ways to use it effectively: web meeting software can link us all to rest of the world and there are endless teaching resources on the internet ranging from free coding programmes for kids (like Scratch) to BBC Bitesize, free virtual museum tours around the world (just internet search), charity online resources and even YouTube. Teachers can update their own skills via a plethora of free MOOCs and VOOCs (online courses open to everyone) as well as making suggestions to students on topics that may interest them.

There have been drives over the past few years to harness the effective use of digital learning technology in schools and colleges. The success has been patchy, with many teachers not receiving the adequate support to develop their own skills – and, therefore, not being confident about using new technology in the classroom.

Supporting this new era of learning

Back in 2013 the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) made recommendations to the then minister of state for skills and enterprise, Matt Hancock. The group’s ambition was to enable the education system to become continually adaptive to an environment that creates new challenges for learners and teachers.

This included a range of suggested measures such as funding, assessment and CPD, and came with targets focused on blended, online and virtual learning. How pertinent this feels in our current health crisis. 

We always hope to see good come out of a crisis and the coronavirus pandemic may perhaps provide the impetus that colleges need to embrace some of these new technologies. This could revolutionise classrooms around the country – as well as helping young people to develop the digital skills they need for a range of exciting careers.

Employers can also support this new era of learning. Workplace visits and work experience opportunities may be on hold at the moment, but what a great time for children to research different careers or find out about the opportunities open to them in a wide range of industries. There are many great career options in sectors not covered directly by the national curriculum – engineering, digitech, healthcare, research, smart buildings and the built environment.

My current work in the education sector focuses on brokering networks of educators with businesses, to create community-based resources. What better time to do this than right now? I’ve been researching how to harness live business projects for students, virtual business tours, webinar Q&As and online mentoring, which will provide a modern work environment as a regional community hub – a Qdos Careers Hub – to bring work and careers to life virtually. Manor Property Group is providing the investment for this project, which will bring renown and tested international practice to the UK.

When this difficult time is over (and it will be over at some point), I plan to escalate this model of industry investment to improve the career aspirations and job prospects of young people – enabling them to make informed choices in a challenging world.

But let’s not waste the next few months simply waiting for it all to be over. Let’s make the most of the opportunity by looking beyond prescribed learning and instead discovering exactly what inspires and motivates our future generation.

Ruth Gilbert is the education director at the Manor Property Group and an honorary fellow of the UCL Institute of Education

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