In the last five years, UK schools have spent over £1 billion pounds on buying the latest must-have gadgets, digital learning tools and software.
But how much of this investment is actually put to good use?
According to research released by non-profit organisation Nesta, although such a vast amount has been invested to modernize the British education system, there is “little evidence of substantial success” in improving learning through newly-acquired digital tools.
Although technological advances can offer better access to educational material and interactive ways to learn, it isn’t an effortless process. In order to integrate technology within the classroom effectively, from replacing traditional textbooks with iPads to smart whiteboards, structured teaching and a balance between technology and core lesson aims have to be maintained.
As the report notes, it’s too easy to forget that not everyone is tech-savvy. As a former teacher, I recall working in several schools that would furnish their classrooms with the latest sparkly product, but forget to train their staff in its use, or assist them in ways to integrate technology within lesson plans. A desktop computer, tablet, smartphone or gaming system takes time to understand, and for busy teachers, finding methods to use this technology to achieve a learning aim may not be so simple.
The report suggests that spending £450 million pounds a year without evidence that it is improving education is nothing more than counter-productive. Instead of “fetishising the latest kit”, Nesta says that teachers should make better use of what they already have.
In addition, the researchers say that many businesses are offering only “superficial” benefits to learning, and too many apps and digital games are used to sugar-coat dull and misdirected lessons.
However, teachers also need support, and must become “confident users of digital technology in order to deal with the complexity and safety of digital tools.” Rather than using technology in an isolated way — only for tablets to be returned to the cupboard after a lesson ends — it should act as a conduit to keep learning going outside of school. By using the Internet to keep a learning network open and accessible, “social” tools, cloud computing and online groups could result in more effective teaching.
Rather than leaving millions of pounds’ worth of equipment “languish unused or underused in school cupboards”, the researchers suggest that in a time where economic problems are causing educational cutbacks, technology should serve as a tool rather than a distraction. Instead of giving in to the “hype” of digital learning, schools should reconsider how technology can serve as method to boost education — rather than a way to make ineffective teaching methods look innovative and exciting.