The digital age is now, so embrace it

20th January 2012 at 00:00
There is no excuse to lag behind, argues Valerie Thompson

The year that the whole teaching profession offers a consistent approach to the role of technology has to be 2012. It has taken far too long already and enough is enough.

Why? Because technology offers so much potential for addressing the many pressing issues schools are facing, from closing the attainment gap and involving parents as educators to supporting excluded pupils and meeting special educational needs through assistive technologies. Technology provides teachers with exciting opportunities to offer personalised learning and to keep lessons relevant and engaging for children of a digital generation.

So, while we can have the debate over whether too much has been spent on hardware and not enough on developing the skills of teachers, the fact is that we are where we are. Pupils and their families now face a postcode lottery when it comes to how well their local school embraces technology across the curriculum and involves teaching staff, as well as its use outside the classroom.

Much has changed in recent years. The traditional ICT suite is now obsolete. Computers are cheaper than they ever were. Even government ministers are starting to see the light and acknowledge the positive role of technology in providing a quality education. Indeed, Michael Gove has admitted that he was guilty of being "behind the curve" when it came to technology in schools. Technology is now being recognised as something that underpins the whole curriculum and is no longer taught in isolation.

It is therefore time to stop treating technology as something special and start demanding that it is used across the curriculum. No excuses, no exceptions, no special cases. And it needs to be financed imaginatively. Let's also make sure that every child has the personal access they need to technology outside the classroom. Otherwise other efforts to close the attainment gap will fail.

And let's ensure schools work in partnership with parents. By all means ask them to contribute towards the cost of the devices (after all, they will be used more at home than at school). But heads could also reinvest the savings from closed ICT suites. There is also the pupil premium, funding that must be used to give disadvantaged children a better chance by ensuring that they have some of the benefits that better-off pupils enjoy.

Once we recognise that it is possible and affordable for every pupil to have their own device by working in partnership with parents, let's go one step further and acknowledge parents' role as educators. This may mean facing up to some uncomfortable truths about how effective some schools are in engaging with them. Our research confirms that parents often struggle to help their children with their homework and want schools and teachers to assist them. Many schools now use technology to provide parents with the tools they need to support their children with their learning. But too many schools are still failing to grasp this important opportunity.

Technology has revolutionised the way companies do business across the world. It has fundamentally changed the way individuals communicate, are entertained and retrieve information. Yet there are still too many schools where technology has only superficially changed the way that teaching and learning take place. And there are too many teachers who remain reluctant to use these exciting tools to their full potential.

Years ago I somewhat frivolously asked a question in a QA session at a conference that went along the lines of "Should a teacher be fired for refusing to deploy technology in their teaching approach?" Ten years on, I don't think it's a joke any more.

Valerie Thompson is chief executive of the e-Learning Foundation.

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