The Edtech Genie - A force for good or divisive inequity?
Updated: Apr 29, 2021
The covid-19 pandemic has been a massive disruptor in all areas of society and the economy, not least in Education. The shock of school closures has provoked a revolution in online teaching and learning with the use of technology to deliver remote lessons. Prior to March 2020 phrases such as ‘mute all’ or ‘paste the link in the chat’ were unfamiliar to most school teachers. Now these have become part of mainstream teacher vocabulary.
The learning curve for many teachers grappling with these new technologies has been steep. Speaking as a self-confessed middle-aged technophobe prior to this unprecedented time, I can honestly say that I have learned more IT skills in the past year, than I had previously accumulated during my working life so far. Partly through necessity, but also because the periods working from home have meant that teachers have had more time to try out new online educational platforms and tools and experiment with their use. This luxury of having the time to trial new technologies and learn new skills is not usually available to teachers in their busy and often frantic days of face-to-face classroom teaching. This experience has opened the eyes of many educators to the potential and possibilities of edtech and its use on our return to the classroom. No one would claim that remote learning and edtech alone is better than the traditional classroom model, however the new educational technologies certainly could and should be used to complement face to face teaching. Edtech provides new ways to collaborate and communicate. It can facilitate independent and ‘hands-on’ learning. As we return to the classroom the new pedagogy should be centred around a hybrid of pen and paper plus digital applications. Now is surely the time to harness the teaching profession’s newfound confidence and engagement with edtech and ensure its use is embedded in future education strategies.
However, after 10 years of government underinvestment in Education, the IT infrastructure in many state schools is creaking. Outdated and limited computer facilities plus poor Wi-Fi coverage currently conspire to make it impossible for many teachers to reliably use edtech as an integral part of their classroom-based lessons. This is evidenced in my own return to classroom teaching. I am now unable to use some of the fun and useful online assessment tools that I had started using during the second period of home schooling and remote lessons. Our school simply does not have the number of physical devices available to support this.
The 2020/21 State of Technology in Education Report reveals that only 19% of IT managers in UK schools think that the current level of investment in their school’s IT systems is adequate. This is down from 46% in 2016. 86% of teachers surveyed said that they thought that tech should be a core part of learning, but a third admitted they avoided using it because school hardware is unreliable.
The pandemic has really shone a light on the digital inequality that exists in our society. It is important to realise that this inequity exists not only in the home, but also in our schools. Many private schools made the transition to online learning seamlessly during the first lockdown in March 2020. Many schools in the state sector struggled to do this as quickly.
We need a government that recognises and responds to this. We need an ambitious programme to update the hardware and software in all state schools and ensure that every child has access to their own digital device. Indeed an education with digital learning and skills embedded throughout is surely a necessity to prepare young people effectively for life. Students will be using technology throughout their lives during Higher Education and in employment. They need to learn the core skills at school. Investment in the digital infrastructure for state education is also vital in case there are future lockdowns - either due to this or future pandemics.
There is also an urgent need to boost the recruitment and retention of specialist computing teachers. In 2019 The Royal Society reported that the numbers of secondary school teachers who teach computing had declined substantially across England. The number in full-time teaching roles had dropped by 14.4% from 2015/16 to 2017/18. This again needs to be addressed - a government that claims it wants to ‘build back better’ surely must be aware
that we need today’s children to be enabled and inspired to become the tech innovators of the future.
The truth is that the edtech genie is well and truly out of the bottle.
The number and variety of available educational websites, platforms and tools have grown exponentially since the first lockdown. However financial and technological restraints will limit their utility in the state sector. The advances in edtech which have been catalysed by the pandemic and periods of enforced home learning have massive potential to positively impact the education of all children. So the edtech genie as a force for good is there for the taking. However if this opportunity is squandered then the danger is that it will become yet another divisive force that further widens the educational gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged.
In a recent speech ‘A New Chapter for Britain’ Keir Starmer said, ‘I want our country to go forward, to embrace the change that’s coming - in science, technology and work - and be ready to face the future.’ 
Keir obviously gets it. I doubt very much that Boris even cares.
 The State of Technology in Education 2020/21: https://resourced.prometheanworld.com/technology-education-industry-report/#schools-strategic-goals
 Royal Society Policy briefing on teachers of computing: https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/Publications/2019/21-08-19-policy-briefing-on-teachers-of-computing.pdf
 Keir Starmer - A New Chapter for Britain: https://labour.org.uk/press/full-text-of-keir-starmer-speech-on-a-new-chapter-for-britain/