Covid pandemic must signal change in education led by technology – EDUCATE Ventures roundtable hears

The pace of change in technology use and remote learning as a result of the Covid school lockdown must signal the start of major education reforms, a roundtable of educationalists and experts heard this week.

Covid pandemic must signal change in education led by technology

The event, hosted by EDUCATE Ventures and entitled Shock to the System: Lessons from Covid-19 Roundtable, was chaired by Lord Jim Knight, a former schools minister, and organised as a precursor to the launch next month of a major report on remote learning and technology use.

Our researchers at EDUCATE Ventures, led by Dr Carmel Kent, the head of data science, spent nine months from the start of the first school lockdown in March 2020 gathering data and information on the experiences of schools, families, students and EdTech developers, using questionnaires, surveys, interviews and analysing the messaging and attitudes on social media. The research was carried out in conjunction with Cambridge University Press, which will publish the research in February.

Professor Rose Luckin, EDUCATE’s director, told the roundtable that remote learning had built up a momentum that had led to many parents opting not to send their children back to school at all – and to home educate instead.

However, there remained a “terrible inertia” in the formal education system that considered physical attendance in school at evidence of progress and central control as a mechanism that needed to be present to make the system work.

“Things have to change, and families deserve better,” Professor Luckin told the panellists and 120 webinar participants. “As one contributor to our research said: ‘in a week we have managed to do the sort of training that would have normally taken six months’.

“People coped despite the enormous amount of information that came from the government, which was often conflicting. We now have to help educators and families to build on the energy they put into making it work, and to make it better. We have to use every tool we have to persuade policymakers that change has to happen. Because change is happening.”

The webinar included a number of key figures and commentators in UK education, and included Caroline Wright Director General, BESA; Sir Anthony Seldon, former Vice Chancellor, University of Buckingham; Lord David Puttnam, Chair, Atticus Education; Lord Tim Clement-Jones, Lord Spokesperson for Digital, Lib Dems; Fran Morgan, Founder, Square Peg; and Tom Moule, Executive Lead, IEAIED.

Bob Harrison, visiting professor of education at the University of Wolverhampton, who has promoted technology use in the further education sector for many years, said there was a lack of vision in government, and accused it of having spent the past ten years “dismantling the structures for technology, only to now have to say how wonderful it is”.

“The inspiration comes from the teachers and educational technologists working together in spite of, and not because, of the system”, he said. “The potential of technology has not been realised.”

Meanwhile Jane Mann, director of education reform at Cambridge University Press, told participants that there was a growing realisation globally that educational assessment also had to change. However, there was still a need for assessment to involve “some elements of pens and paper”. Her comments came as schools and colleges in the UK are awaiting further information from the government about how this year’s GCSE and A-level will be assessed, after Ministers scrapped examinations because of the disruption caused by the pandemic.

“There is a strong desire for change, but the pace at which we are moving means that everything seems to be reactive,” Ms Mann said. “It needs to be a well-considered, evidence-based move because you cannot just change assessment without changing everything that goes with it.”

Nick Kind, educational specialist with Tyton and Partners, said there was a risk that people would think of technology as “that terrible thing we did in lockdown, which was dysfunctional and we hated it, and can we go back to where we were before”. He said that the story needed to be told about how technology could make a difference and why it was important to embrace it.

There was consensus among the participants that the experience of remote learning had let the technology genie out of the bottle, and it was not going to be easy to force it back in. The issue now is, how to convince the policymakers.

A recording of the roundtable discussion can be found here.

Originally posted on the EDUCATE Medium blog here.

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