The lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic offered schools, academics and policymakers an unprecedented opportunity to examine new ways of learning.
Lessons from Covid-19
As education systems worldwide went online, it was a chance to observe and evaluate the successes and challenges of teaching and learning remotely, and to consider, based on that experience, how things can be made better for the future.
At EDUCATE Ventures we began a major piece of research from the moment schools locked down in the UK, on March 20, 2020. It seemed to us an opportunity that we could not miss. By surveying and interviewing three parts of the education ecosystem – schools, families and the EdTech community – we were able to come up with, what we believe is, the most comprehensive picture of what remote learning looked like during the pandemic, what worked and what did not, with recommendations on how this can be improved if a similar event were to happen in the future. The whole process from start to finish took more than nine months.
Our report, Shock to the System: Lessons from Covid-19, was published in February in conjunction with Cambridge Partnership for Education.
We found that more than 80% of teachers and three-quarters of school leaders began using or recommending technologies they had never used prior to the Covid-19 shutdown.
Almost seven out of ten — 68% — of parents used education technology (EdTech) for the first time to home-school their children as learning moved online.
However, decades of research into online learning was not utilised by either the UK government or schools to guide them on how technology should be used in an emergency situation.
The move to home-schooling forced EdTech companies to start collecting data about their users and by the Autumn of 2020 only 10% of companies were not collecting information about use and impact, which could be used to improve the efficacy of their product.
During the school lockdown, EdTech companies began to be seen as organisations that were there to help and support the move to home learning, with more than 60% of companies reporting that they offered free access to their products. Many made changes to products or services to support families, including moving access online, adding functionality or providing Covid specific restrictions, such as social distancing.
While the most pressing worry for EdTech companies in April and June 2020 was paying rent on company premises, this changed by the Autumn to concern about recruiting too many users to be able to serve them effectively. The use of EdTech also impacted positively on communication between educators, school leaders and parents.
The study found that access to the internet and devices was a major challenge for schools and families. One teacher described how, in some families, up to five children were competing for the use of one laptop, and many did not have a printer or some other device that could help them to access learning. “If they let the school know they were given paper copies of things, but they had…be able to get to school to let us know” the teacher said.
There were also disparities in technical infrastructure between different types of school. In the first month of lockdown, students in private schools were twice as likely to access online lessons daily compared to those in state schools. Teachers from disadvantaged schools reported that more than a third of their class would not have adequate access to technology.
The report predicted that the increased use of EdTech due to the Covid-19 disruption to education:
“could precipitate a rosy future for EdTech companies in Britain” with an expectation that “more blended learning approaches may be implemented in schools, mixing classroom and online learning, to continue the fight to reduce the detrimental impact of Covid-19 in schools and the community”.
*The report, Shock to the System: Lessons from Covid-19, can be downloaded here.