Networks and workforce development the answer to ICT challenges not Westminster
The landscape for ICT in education has seen significant changes in the last year. Schools, Colleges and Universities are coming to terms with a very different economic, political and technological climate and environment.
Gone or reformed are the big state quangos, ring fenced funding, a harnessing technology strategy, research funding and the capacity and capability of local authority interventions has been significantly diminished.
The advances in technology, however, including bigger and faster broadband, cheaper and more sophisticated portable devices, more robust wireless networks and longer battery life has been welcomed by some teachers and lecturers as they believe it will help them engage and motivate learners in a variety of different learning environments.The digital lives of pupils and students outside the classroom and lecture halls has raised their expectation levels and increased the pressures on schools, colleges and universities to ensure that they make the most of available and popular technologies to enhance teaching and learning and avoid what Martin Bean, The Vice Chancellor of the Open University suggests is a “ growing crisis of relevance” facing our educational institutions.
A new Government ICT Policy?
The education community who believe technology, properly used, can not only engage and motivate learners but also raise levels of achievement and attainment were encouraged earlier this year by a speech at the RSA by Education Secretary, Michael Gove, which specifically highlighted the part technology can play in improving learning.
This has also been reinforced by Dr Vanessa Pittard, the DfE lead for ICT who cheered up delegates at a recent Yorkshire and Humber Grid for learning event by telling them
"Technology can improve learning and that statement has been approved by Ministers."
This was then reinforced the following week when Schools Minister Nick Gibb said those very words in a parliamentary answer to a question from a fellow conservative!
Vanessa went on to inform the conference that a new DfE ICT policy was being developed and that it was likely to focus on the following themes:
- How technology can improve the quality of teaching
- How can “aggregated procurement” get better value for money
- How technology can deliver efficiency gains and system improvements
- How can education providers become more “intelligent customers”
- What does education need to do to “future proof” their institutions for changes in technology
She was anxious to point out, however, that it would not be another “ Becta style Harnessing Technology strategy” and unlikely to have a large, or indeed any, budget.
Whilst it is recognised that technology can, and will, add value in all those areas there are some commentators who believe this focus is too narrow and in order to ensure a full return on the significant investment in ICT there needs to be a greater emphasis on how technology can improve learning and assessment.
Vanessa Pittard also suggested that the solution to more effective use of technology was more likely to come from within schools and colleges rather than policy statements from Westminster.
This can only be addressed by more emphasis on the continued, and perhaps increased investment in the skills and knowledge of the entrants to, and existing members of, the education workforce.
Helping each other to help ourselves
Professor Stephen Heppell says this can only be achieved by teachers sharing “what works” with other teachers. Successful examples of this include the DfE/Open University Vital programme, The Teach-Meet movement, and networks such as the Toshiba Ambassadors, The Schools Network and the ICT Register.
A recent announcement that the Open University managed CPD programme for ICT, Vital, is to receive a further year of funding from the DfE is perhaps a recognition that the government recognises a need.
Given that this has been reduced annually from an intial £5.6m to £2.5m and will reduce further to a final £1.2 before self sustainability is required it is clear that the days of centrist intervention are over.
Networks and self help is even more important given It is not yet clear if the newly established Teaching Agency will have any remit in this area but some teacher educators believe it was disappointing that the new Teaching Standards made no mention of Teachers ICT competency.
These networks will be of even greater value given the prevailing ministerial mantra of “schools know best”.
But do they?
Anyone who read the last BECTA ICT research, the OFSTED report on ICT in schools, and a more recent BESA schools survey suggest that “some schools know better than others” but the effective use of ICT across all sectors in education is extremely variable. The challenge is how do we reduce the variation in provision and avoid a “digital divide” which may exacerbate other existing divisions and obviously raises issues of equity and equality of opportunity and not least the economic chances not only of individuals but UK Plc?
Other Challenges ahead?
The recent increases in the availability of free and open source software, more and more colleges and universities making knowledge and content freely available, and increased access through mobile devices suggests there may be even greater changes to come for schools, colleges and universities.
The growing popularity of “blended learning”, increased “consumerisation” of educational technology (users own devices), more reliance on cloud services and cheaper tablet technology all against a backcloth of reduced capital expenditure suggest a transition to a “revenue based solution” of low cost, low maintenance, and “consumerisation ” of technology. Issues of security, safety, equity and staff capability will surely test education leadership at all levels in all sectors?
Whilst there are many uncertainties in all of this turmoil the energy, shared and collective wisdom of networks of teachers and lecturers and their willingness to adapt and respond in the interest of their learners will surely maintain the momentum and general direction of travel and hopefully sustain us all in the years ahead?