Two reports have recently questioned the technology investments made by schools in England. They raise the question of, not whether technology is ready for learning, but whether learning is ready for technology?
BESA (British Educational Suppliers Association) claim that pupils in England are at risk of missing out, not because they don’t have the digital content, but because the schools don’t have good enough digital connection.
Education research company C3 surveyed a representative panel of some 600 state schools for Besa. Of the 250 secondary schools surveyed, 22% had wi-fi in most or all classrooms, 39% had it in some classrooms, but some 39% had wi-fi in a few or no classrooms. Of the 350 primary schools, some 28% had wi-fi in most or all classrooms, 22% had it in some classrooms, but 50% of all schools only had wi-fi in a few or no classrooms.
This could be seen as a critical infrastructure underinvestment and potentially limits eLearning’s capability to add value. This is at a time when technology is becoming more mobile and the ability to link devices seamlessly to the network becomes pivotal. Importantly, it could limit teaching to certain hot spots and obviates technology being available to all, regardless of classroom walls or class time.
However, wi-fi is not cheap and could cost £15,000 to connect a 500 pupil primary school and up to £50,000 for a large comprehensive. But with more mobile devices, pupils having their own devices and increasing demand for eLearning, some would argue that wi-fi should be viewed as a basic utility not unlike water, heating and light.
Education Secretary Michael Gove wants computing higher on the agenda and that children learn basic computer code in primary school. He also wants children at 11 to be able to create basic animations and websites. It is hard to see how these targets can be achieved without the full network infrastructure.
Last Year, NESTA (National Endowment for Science,Technology and the Arts) claimed in their report, Decoding Learning, that there is clear evidence that technology can boost learning. They estimate that in the last three years schools in England have spent over £1.4bn on technology, but that all too often it is not being used to its "full promise and potential".
Their research team, from the University of Nottingham and the London-based Institute of Education Knowledge Lab, found there was clear evidence that technology such as interactive whiteboards, digital tablets and software could help improve pupils' learning. However, they claim that often they are used without a strong understanding of their potential and many schools still use them to support old teaching methods and objectives.
They state that, replacing an exercise book with a tablet is not innovation, just a different way to make notes.
So we have claims about the lack of appropriate investment in network infrastructure in schools and also claims that the technology deployed is not being fully exploited. It is claimed by both reports that schools need more help and best practice guidelines on how to invest and exploit technology.
A few weeks ago on attending BETT at Excel in London I was somewhat overpowered by the array of shiny new technology options on offer. It is little wonder that schools are somewhat bamboozled by the choices on offer and take a cautious investment route and even make buying mistakes.
Who is teaching the teachers?