The Covid-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for change for many organisations, and schools haven’t been left out of the push it has created for digital transformation and online learning. Although now over, school closures “drove multi-generational digital upskilling in schools. A study published on 26th April 2021 by education and assessment company Pearson reveals the extent to which the pandemic has helped to improve tech capabilities among the teaching workforce.”
“According to the findings, digital expertise has excelled among both teachers and students, with 81% of the former reporting advanced digital skills among staff following the shift to remote working and learning, and 64% of participants also claiming to recognise improvements among students’ digital abilities.”
“The study was conducted amidst the nation’s third official lockdown, drawing responses from 6,817 teachers – including classroom teachers, middle leaders and head teachers. Among other things, it demonstrates the potential longevity of classroom technology, with almost half (46%) of respondents stating that they expect to see more on-screen assessment in education moving forward, while over a third (34%) predict that technology will increase levels of parental engagement with children’s learning over the next few years.”
Technology and innovation
Pearson believes that the power of technology and innovation have a role in enhancing education for both teachers, families, communities and particularly for students. They argue that, while some parents reported some dissatisfaction with the lockdown online learning experience, when done well it can amplify the teaching and learning experience.
The research company adds: “Covid-19 has driven a step change in digital innovation in education, but where does its future now lie? Our latest research with Teacher Tapp reveals educators’ thoughts on the benefits of online learning during the pandemic, the challenges to overcome and what the future could look like.”
Changes and challenges
The future very much starts now, and this transformation begins with recognising what has changed in schools. However, the sector needs to avoid overlooking or underestimating the challenges that will continue to persist for some time to come. Pearson explains: “For example, one of the major issues expressed by teachers in the survey was the increase in workload (61%). On top of this, many felt that the remote transition made it harder to personalise education provision (55%).”
Students have also faced challenges, and self-motivation was ultimately the biggest challenge. Learning remotely can, particularly in regard to younger children, suffer because they can easily be distracted, and it’s harder for a teacher to keep them engaged. The survey therefore found that 83% of teachers struggled to ensure that their pupils remain motivated to learn.
Children within the Free School Meals (FSM) demographic, whom are typically from lower income families and households, were also less likely to have access to digital resources and technology such as home-based internet access, tablet computers and laptops. Schools with fewer FSM students therefore found that they were in a more advantageous position. Yet in the media, this sparked justifiable concerns that the FSM children could end up falling far behind because of this resources gap. Fortunately, they aren’t alone, as support is available from the Department for Education (DfE).
Help is available for this group through their schools and local authorities as explained in the British government’s guidance entitled, ‘Get help with technology during coronavirus (COVID-19)’. As part of the scheme, the DfE is providing: “…more than 1.3 million laptops and tablets to help disadvantaged pupils and young people with remote and face-to-face education during coronavirus (COVID-19)… Disadvantaged children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are included within this offer. However, if specialist support and equipment is required, help may be available through the Family Fund.”
Pearson has also pledged to support the sector by offering free support and access to its learning platforms for both teachers and families, and by funding 250 laptops alongside a £50,000 contribution to the Computers for Kids campaign, which was launched by British newspaper the Daily Mail. The campaign was launched early on in 2021, and within a week it raised £6.9m to benefit up to a million schoolchildren having problems with accessing online learning and lessons at home.
Pearson’s survey has nevertheless found that schools have shown a willingness to embrace technology, and that they have worked hard to minimise the disruption to teaching and to children’s education since the pandemic began in March 2020. Les Hopper, Director of Digital and Assessment for UK Schools at Pearson says that the emphasis has been on digital learning. However, in practice it has revealed both the strengths and weaknesses of digital transformation – including online teaching and learning, which can as a result begin to evolve and improve over the course of time.
Impact of digital transformation
Acer for Education cites 5 ways in which the push for digital transformation is impacting schools. Before exploring them, the company claims that digital transformation is not about innovation or technology – although some commentators would rightly argue they play a major role. However, the firm believes it more a matter of culture: “Through a digitalisation of the learning experience, both teachers and students are able to improve their skills, with a common goal: to create a more engaging and effective education process.”
They also believe there is a need as part of the push for digital transformation in schools to boost digital equity – to enable access to learning resources in an “easier and less expensive way” than would be permitted by the traditional model. Digitalisation means they can have access to learning resources at any time of the day, no matter where they are located – including at home, and this can be with the right funding and support in place regardless of the socio-economic status of each child.
The company adds: “With digital transformation, there is no [further] need to stop by the library to collect so many heavy books, that most of the time were already taken by someone else. Also, there will be no [further] need to choose which paper book to buy among those in the long list of suggested coursebooks. Digital content is less expensive and [it] can be shared among students and teachers in a click.”
There is nevertheless a need to deliver a customised experience, and the firm argues that big data can play a role in this process. The firm believes that big data fuelled curricula – perhaps with the help of artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics, can help to suggest courses that a pupil of a certain age should consider taking. This will depend on an analysis of previously completed courses, previously completed, their results and his aptitude.
Digital learning platforms can also extend the classroom from being just physically located geographically within a school to digitally being able to collaborate with schools, teachers, communities, and schoolchildren from around the world. They can also benefit from modular learning, which can be developed and launched quickly to enable educators to create a variety of what Acer for Education describes as being “effective learning materials that have to satisfy a broad range of needs for different competencies, difficulty levels, roles, and departments.”
Training is fundamental
Lastly, it underlines that teachers’ training is fundamental to the success of digital transformation in schools – particularly as some students are often more digitally skilled than their much older teachers. In this regard, to a certain extent, pupils, and teachers can support each other. However, teachers will feel more empowered by gaining skills in the use of digital tools. They will particularly want to learn the most efficient ways of using them to take advantage of any new education technologies.
This can be achieved by schools and teachers enrolling teachings in professional learning communities; by investing in training; by sharing tips with colleagues; by staying connected and by sharing a commitment to deliver high quality education. Furthermore, there is a need to teach parents and children online safety skills and about how they can protect their privacy. After all, the push for digital transformation in schools should offer a safe way for children to learn and to develop themselves.