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Launching a digital revolution in schools

On 7 August, the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, called for the tech industry to launch an education revolution for schools, colleges and universities.

This was a welcome show of support for the education technology (EdTech) sector in the UK, which has been growing exponentially in the last few years.

As the Department for Education has now acknowledged, technology has the power to significantly reduce teacher workload, enhance student experiences and boost learning outcomes. However, only a minority of schools and colleges are currently taking advantage of these opportunities.

We noticed this two years ago and published this blog with our findings.

The barriers to using technology in schools

The reasons behind this lack of uptake are many and varied, but include a lack of:

  1. Digital strategy: senior leaders need to support the effective use & purchasing of tech
  2. Accountability: the use of tech isn’t currently measured/recognised in schools
  3. Budget: falling IT budgets, high costs and rapidly developing products
  4. Infrastructure: lack of modern devices / fast internet
  5. Support: not enough help / training for teachers
  6. Knowledge: low technical understanding / limited evidence on what works
  7. Time: teachers are too busy to keep up with a rapidly changing industry
  8. Awareness: limited awareness of the options available (and too many to choose from)

Fortunately, it seems like the infrastructure issue is now being addressed; a package announced in the Autumn Budget means more schools are now able to access ultrafast broadband speeds.

After exploring potential solutions to the barriers listed above, we realised we could help address the lack of budget, support and knowledge. We started by building Rocket Fund - a crowdfunding platform for schools - to address the budgetary issue.

Crowdfunding gives teachers the freedom to buy technology products without risking their limited school budgets.

Examples of how schools have used Rocket Fund to transform their classrooms

In a small school in rural Scotland, where 65 per cent of the pupils are eligible for free school meals, being able to afford iPads has been a real game-changer for the children. “Used across the curriculum, the iPads made learning seem like play, which made the children more motivated, enthused and engaged,” the teacher noted.

VR at St. Joseph’s

At St. Joseph's Catholic Primary School, pupils and teachers launched a crowdfunding campaign to bring virtual reality (VR) kits into the classrooms.

With VR, “the places [the children] see help them to engage their imaginations and inspire [them] to be curious and more worldly,” the teacher said. The school’s computing club even had the chance to create their own VR worlds to explore.

Spheros for Prescot

The most popular item on Rocket Fund is “Robots/coding kits”, such as the Sphero robots which Prescot Primary School fundraised for. Since 90 per cent of jobs now require digital skills to some degree (according to UK Government’s Industrial Strategy), the school was dedicated to strengthening "its coding curriculum by providing its children across all age groups with the opportunities to see their work in action - live in their classroom, not just on a screen," as the teacher said.

The teacher in charge of the project was happy to see that the robots are "reliable and tough" while also "child-friendly and fun!" She explained that children would often try to synchronise two Spheros when working in pairs, therefore enhancing their collaboration and team working skills.

Our plans for this year

We like the sound of the Department for Education’s plans to: “develop online training packages, establish an online portal providing free software trials for schools, and bring together industry and school leaders through a series of regional ‘demonstrator’ roadshows," as these will all help address the challenges we listed above.

This school year, we are going to build a test centre, by publishing the reviews we’ve been gathering from our users, essentially creating a Trip Advisor-style peer-review platform for teachers. We’re also planning to build a forum to enable teachers to share ideas and support each other to make the most of technology. Finally, we will enable suppliers to list on our platform and offer free trials in return for reviews, helping teachers to access a wider variety of products and try things out to see what works for them. This all should help address the lack of knowledge, support and awareness barriers mentioned above.

The community of 2,000 teachers that we have already developed via Rocket Fund will provide a solid base for this.

The revolution has begun

Technology is a huge part of our everyday lives, helping us in everything from online shopping to fitness and healthcare. It’s about time the revolution came to the education sector too. Schools just need some support to make the most of it.

Part of
Rocket Fund

Author

Ben Gill

Ben Gill

Ben Gill

Senior Programme Manager

Ben is Senior Programme Manager in the Innovation Lab's Education Team.

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Cleo Fatoorehchi

Cleo Fatoorehchi

Cleo Fatoorehchi

Operations Manager

Cleo was part of the Education team at Nesta and worked on Rocket Fund, a crowdfunding platform for schools to give children access to EdTech.

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