Reboot education to secure economic future, report says
Technology must play a central role in the classroom if Scotland is to avoid falling behind its international competitors, according to a major new report.
The quality of teaching around technology varies dramatically, it finds, while staff shortages are a "major constraint" and image problems continue to blight subjects such as computing. There is some good news, however: the Education Scotland report reveals that teachers are gaining confidence in using technology, which is also helping disaffected pupils to engage with education and sparking growing interest in coding among young people.
The report, Building Society: young people's experiences and outcomes in the technologies (bit.lyScotTech), argues that "digital technologies need to be given a much more central role in learning and teaching", as "highly persuasive" international research shows how this can improve a child's schooling. "For too many young people, experiences in the technologies are not always strong enough," it adds.
Excelling in this area is essential to Scotland's future prosperity, but there is a danger of failing to match rapid progress in countries such as Brazil, Russia and India, the authors warn.
Technology-related subjects, such as business education, engineering and food and textiles, still suffer from gender stereotyping of careers, the report argues, adding that teachers can provide powerful role models to counteract such views. It cites the example of national initiatives in South Korea, which have succeeded in increasing the number of female science and engineering graduates.
While there are signs of teachers gaining confidence in using technology, the authors call on businesses and parents to play a bigger supporting role. Pupils who may otherwise feel alienated from school are responding well to the entrepreneurial projects that technology often opens up, and there is fast-growing interest in coding, perhaps inspired by the ubiquity of "apps" in daily life.
Lack of money and staffing shortages are hampering progress, however, with the latter acting as a "major constraint" on schools. The report states: "Arguably, the issue facing practitioners is not any lack of high-quality resources so much as the challenge of finding, and at times funding, the resource which best meets the need of their young people."
Kirsty McFaul, Education Scotland's senior officer for technologies, said it was important that pupils learned not only how to use technology but also how to create it. Classroom tasks had to have a clear connection to the world outside the school, she added.
Bruce Robertson, who leads on ICT and technology for education directors' body ADES, and Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, both told TESS that there were wide disparities in pupils' experience of technology around Scotland.
Mr Robertson also criticised poor internet connectivity in schools - "the vast majority of pupils have far better broadband at home", he said - and the "corporate madness" of local authorities blocking pupils' access to popular websites.
The report was a "wake-up call", he added, as technological expertise was "fundamental for our future economic prosperity" - for example, the skills needed for decommissioning North Sea oil and gas platforms. He called for student primary teachers to be given better training in using technology.
But the report was "largely a missed opportunity", according to Laurie O'Donnell, visiting professor of learning innovation and technology at the University of Abertay.
"There is a lot of evidence of some great stuff happening in many schools across the technologies but the message appears to boil down to `could do better'," he said, describing computer science in particular as being in a "critical state", with many schools no longer offering the subject.
"My view is that technologies was always and continues to be a very poorly specified aspect of Curriculum for Excellence," Mr O'Donnell added.
Robert Macmillan, acting president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said that many steps recommended by the report would add to teachers' workload, and it was "silent on how these should be balanced and managed with the other drains on teacher time".
"The fact that there is little relation to the real world facing teachers in Scotland is disappointing," he said.