`Educators have an other-worldly responsibility'

20th February 2015 at 00:00
Save pupils from data overload, says private school spokesman

Schools must be "privileged places" that give students time and space away from being "bombarded with data" and technology, according to the country's biggest independent schools' group.

At a time when an increasing number of schools are giving students their own tablet computers, Dr Kevin Stannard, director of innovation and learning at the Girls' Day School Trust, believes that schools should act as a refuge from social media-dominated modern life.

Speaking to TES, Dr Stannard said it was important for schools to strike the right balance between preparing their students for the working world and teaching them to engage in a "deeper" understanding of subject content.

In their haste to keep pace with technological change in other sectors, schools must not overlook their primary aim of providing students with the skills to focus and concentrate, he added.

"In embracing a digital future, schools need to avoid striving to become a pale facsimile version of the `real' world," Dr Stannard said. "Schools need to prepare young people to take their place in that world, but as educators we have a wider, other-worldly responsibility.

"In a modular, multitasking, rapidly mutating world, where young people are bombarded with data, schools must stand out as privileged places that put value on sustained reflection and considered debate."

He added: "Schools give space for young people to explore ideas, develop understanding, make links between concepts and engage in a deeper, more considered and more nuanced way than is perhaps the case elsewhere, where instant responses are needed and attention spans are truncated."

According to a 2014 survey of schools by the British Educational Suppliers Association, more than half of primaries and secondaries now use tablet computers for teaching and learning, and a growing number are providing students with their own devices.

Some schools that are unable to afford individual devices for students are experimenting with allowing children to bring in their own technology, including mobile phones. Many teachers, however, fear the gadgets could act as a distraction rather than a learning aid.

The effect on students' learning of introducing personal tablets is still largely unknown, according to researchers. As a result, a host of trials on what works best have been initiated by groups such as the Education Endowment Foundation.

Despite this, schools are regularly urged to equip their students with the necessary skills to use such devices. Just this week a cross-party committee from the House of Lords published a report calling on the next government to place "digital literacy" on a par with reading, writing and maths in a bid to address the digital skills shortage.

Committee chair Baroness Sally Morgan said the report made it clear that the current approach to educating people of all ages "needs a radical rethink".

"From an early age we need to give digital literacy as much importance as numeracy and literacy," she said.

Ian Addison, ICT leader at Riders Infant and Junior School in Hampshire, said it was the teacher's job to ensure that students were ready for the outside world, which meant employing social media in the classroom.

He said: "Many schools are now using tools seen in the `real world', such as Twitter and Instagram, as a platform to showcase learning and promote discussion with others.

"I see our role as preparing children for later in life. This includes using a range of technology in different ways but definitely encompasses keeping children safe online and making sure they consider that their actions may have repercussions."

London Festival of Education

Dr Kevin Stannard, director of innovation and learning at the Girls' Day School Trust, will be among a host of top names speaking at the London Festival of Education next week.

TES has teamed up with the UCL Institute of Education to host the one-day event in central London, which will explore a wide variety of issues affecting teachers around the country as they strive to improve their schools.

Joining Dr Stannard on the festival podium will be shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt; London's deputy mayor for education and culture Munira Mirza; chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation Kevan Collins; and Finnish education reform expert Pasi Sahlberg. Spoken-word artist George the Poet will also be appearing.

The event is aimed at teachers, parents, young people and policymakers, and will take place on 28 February at the IoE. There will be talks, practical workshops and a vibrant mix of performances. For tickets and to find out more about the event, visit london festivalofeducation.com


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