Increasingly education technology means on-line. Cloud-based computing enables cost savings, ensures content and software is always up-to-date and allows access anytime, anywhere and on any device. Collaborative learning crosses institutional and geographical boundaries. Resources and opportunities are global.
Pragmatically, that means schools, colleges, universities and other providers must have a robust, fast broadband connection as a pre-requisite. Making effective use of available broadband requires widespread access to, and the welcoming of, mobile devices (as well as providing specialist computers for particular purposes – maker spaces or school radio for example).
Technology is fast changing and it is hard for providers to keep pace with developments or to understand what digital technology is best for them. Although in real terms the cost of broadband and digital technology is on a downward curve, it can still represent a significant cost, and investment in digital technology can vary hugely in different education institutions. Independent advice on digital technology and reduced broadband rates can help providers get the best digital technology solution for them and ensure value for money.
Other countries are making significant investments in ICT (the cross curricular use of digital technology) to take advantage of new forms of collaboration, delivery, access to content and greater efficiencies. The position in England is too varied with some areas of good access and/or good use of ICT and some with poor access to, with restrictions and/or poor use of digital technology.
Increased use of on-line learning and digital technology helps equip children and students with the digital skill set they need in life to access education, employment, government services and training opportunities. It is seen as one of the key drivers to narrow the gender gap. Without real progress we will lose ground to our competitors and continue to produce a workforce unequipped for the needs of industry or of citizenship.
Seeing the joy of our younger learners as they try to solve the world locations of their regular Mystery Skype chats it is clear that the mindset of the global learner is in place. They urgently need the infrastructure to support it.
Four key recommendations:
- Schools, Colleges and Universities should provide learners with an entitlement to a substantial minimum level of fast broadband connectivity which is based on number of learners and a rising expectation of increasing, institutional and personal use.
- Schools, Colleges and Universities should provide learners with a minimum entitlement to a safe, secure, resilient and robust organisation-wide Wi-Fi system for all their devices with access to both use, and contribute to, all learning resources when learners are not on the premises/campus.
- School, Colleges and Universities should build BYO (Bring Your Own) approaches into their immediate and medium term digital technology strategies.
- Schools Colleges and Universities should have access to an independent, objective help/advice/support service for technology procurement and deployment.
Plus three others to think about:
- Schools and colleges might be given priority in national broadband roll-out
- Discounts for school broadband – and using the collective power of learners to drive their 4G connectivity / device personal rates down
- Without exception all the inputs we received highlighted procurement policies as obstructive and unhelpful. Many simply ignored them, but for larger scale procurement they were an excellent example of the “policies producing unexpected barriers” that we were tasked with uncovering. Procurement needs unpicking and then transforming, urgently.