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  1. Spotlight on Policy
3 February 2021updated 09 Sep 2021 11:45am

Putting an end to digital poverty

Better infrastructure will help education technology to meet the evolving needs of teachers and students.

By Ji Li

The coronavirus pandemic has injected fresh urgency into the education technology conversation. As schools and universities have been ordered to close for months at a time due to lockdown measures against the virus, educators have had to adapt to new ways of teaching online. This has led to mixed results, usually depending on what level of digital provision institutions had in place to begin with.

Education technology encompasses a plethora of tools, devices and techniques. Access to these things is as important as engagement – both emotionally and intellectually. And we should acknowledge that moving lessons online is not simply a case of doing the same thing you would in a classroom, but in front of a screen. 

Alongside digital adoption, there needs to be a shift in educators’ mindsets, and an appropriate blended learning strategy that accompanies new equipment. When it comes to managing a budget, technology should be thought about with its wider value in mind, rather than simply in terms of its upfront cost.

It is important to note that there is no “one size fits all” solution to modernising education; it will very much depend on individual courses or student needs. What might work for English classes may not be suitable for science or physical education.

While Rupinder Bansil, head teacher at the Inspire Partnership Multi-Academy Trust, notes that there is “no substitute for face-to-face learning”, she is enthusiastic about teachers’ abilities to “adapt their skills to deliver education virtually”.

Interaction is key. Over the course of the pandemic, teaching staff have widened their toolkit to include live lessons, the use of different online platforms, feedback tools, and many other ways to interact with pupils digitally.  

Bansil notes there needs to be a “balance” between the real and virtual world, and does not think moving online is necessarily a long-term solution, but in the interim it represents an opportunity to ensure that learning continues, and guards against “large gaps in society”.

The pandemic requires us to think differently about how we live, work and learn. Julia Garvey, deputy director general at the British Education Suppliers Association, says the past year can be viewed as a “tipping point” for technological adoption. Circumstances have catalysed the uptake of new edtech, and that is no bad thing. Edtech has become “part of learning as usual”, she says, “rather than simply learning during lockdown”.

Reliable access to the internet is now widely viewed as a core requirement for students and teachers alike, and David Lakin, head of education at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, characterises the inconsistency in internet access across the country as living in or outside of “digital poverty”.

If digital skills are to become essential in most lines of work post-pandemic, it stands to reason then that the government should invest in allowing as many people to learn them as possible. At Plum, we aim to help in achieving that aim.

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