Technology can even free teachers from admin, leaving more time to devlote to pupils. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The latest learning technology can raise standards of education for everyone

To get the best out of it, investment in learning technology needs to be results driven.

Technology makes life better. It allows people from across the globe to collaborate as if seated around the same table, has allowed 3D printing to become a reality and makes it possible to master Guitar Hero from the comfort, and privacy, of our living rooms. As technology changes the world around us, it is also transforming education. Technology at its best can empower teachers and students, raise standards and improve outcomes for those who learn.

While we have seen youth unemployment dropping to its lowest level for five years, it is still too high. Yet employers with jobs to fill are saying that they are unable to fill entry-level vacancies as they cannot find candidates with the necessary skills. This is damaging to individuals and businesses alike. By harnessing the latest technology, we can develop innovative learning techniques and platforms to ensure those entering work for the first time are equipped with the skills employers need, and that those already in jobs are able to progress through their career.

Better still, evidence shows that the biggest impact of technology in education is on those who need it most. Technology has the power to break open the doors of learning, making education more inclusive and enabling it to embrace those learners that have for too long been marginalised. It is these individuals who can benefit the most from innovation. Traditionally, learning was constrained to classrooms and required students to physically attend set lessons. This immediately excludes those who are unable to make this type of commitment, whether because of disability or due to childcare or other caring commitments. If we take learning out of the classroom and put it online, or indeed make it accessible on a mobile phone, then suddenly those people that were previously excluded are able to make learning a part of their lives.

Encouragingly, innovation in digital education continues at pace. Just recently, online learning company Qualt launched a new platform that allows learners looking to develop their careers to study professional skills Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) via a free downloadable app on their smart phone. This is a prime example of how technology can offer people a flexible, low-risk opportunity to develop in a way that works around them and their lifestyle. This week also saw adult learning charity NIACE awarded ‘App of the Year’ in the Prolific North Awards for their Maths Everywhere app that helps adults build vital numeracy skills. 

It’s not just outside of the classroom that technology can make a difference. Technology can be effectively used by teachers to bring subjects to life within schools, colleges and universities. It can also assist teachers with their administrative and planning tasks, allowing more time to focus on inspiring and nurturing pupils.

Through embracing technology, students - whether sat in a classroom or on the sofa - can benefit from a bespoke education tailored to their personal strengths and weaknesses. Digital learning programs can be paced to suit the individual, meaning those who benefit from extra time on key subjects, or indeed those who are capable of racing ahead, are kept on-track and engaged. The digitally enhanced classroom has no disengaged back row, no struggling students too embarrassed to raise questions in front of their peers and no bright stars wasting their potential re-visiting topics they have already mastered.  Technology can help keep the de-motivated engaged just as it helps the best to soar.

While technology is a subject to get enthused and excited by, we must not lose our heads. Teachers should not fear technology. But to get the best out of it, investment in learning technology needs to be results driven. Success must not be measured on technical terms or spending commitments, but instead by its ability to drive up standards and outcomes for learners. Embracing technology does not simply mean writing cheques.  We have learnt the hard way that brand-new kit is only able to prove its worth if used effectively. This means making smart purchasing decisions and ensuring that staff and users are trained to take full advantage of their new devices.

By harnessing the latest learning technology, we can raise standards of education for everyone. Schools can offer students a more dynamic learning experience catered to their individual needs, employees keen to further their career can learn new skills online, and critically those previously left on the sidelines of education, can benefit from more opportunities to learn than ever before.

Matthew Hancock is Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise

Getty
Show Hide image

"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

0800 7318496