Education systems around the world are facing many challenges - from vastly unequal access or crises in teacher recruitment, to the growing costs of modernisation or stalling social mobility. Technology can’t solve everything, but it can play (under the right enabling conditions) a crucial role in supporting our school systems to improve and innovate.
This week we published a new report in partnership with Nesta Italia and Fondazione per la Scuola which asks: How can we make the most of technology in school systems?
Our starting point was three particular challenges for technology in schools. Firstly, scale. While we can find examples of isolated cases of single or small groups of schools using technology to innovate in exceptional ways, we find many fewer instances where this practice has grown or diffused to impact on much larger numbers of schools and the system itself. Secondly, complexity. Technology brings in new layers of complexity (with different priorities, types of organisation, methods and needs) to an already inherently complex school system. Thirdly, impact. There is a gap between the promise of technology and the reality experienced in classroom, and there are too few opportunities to connect the development of EdTech with its ultimate users.
To help explore these questions we looked at nine case studies - three in Italy, three in the rest of Europe, three in the rest of the world - of technology impacting on large numbers of teachers and learners. Each of these is discussed in detail in the report, so do read the full report for more details of a wide range of programmes - from teacher training efforts in Italy or digital inclusion in New Zealand, to co-creating curricula with teachers in Wales or translating the entire Khan Academy to serve Brazilian schools.
Through interviews, workshops and visits to schools we set out to understand the obstacles, success factors and advice that could be drawn from the practice in these different settings. From this, we’ve developed a set of recommendations for government, philanthropic foundations, schools, teachers and technology companies. These are grouped into three themes.
The first relates to scale. How can we ensure that the benefits of investment in technology are felt more widely, and that the exciting practice seen in exceptional schools can be felt elsewhere? We point to a range of actions that could increase the likelihood of programmes reaching scale, ranging from investments in training and support (alongside hardware and software) to improved infrastructure to gather and use data more effectively and openly.
The second relates to schools. How can we gain buy-in from schools to wider programmes of change? And how can school leaders support their school community to make the most of change in their school? We benefited from lots of conversations with teachers about what to do (and what not to do!) and have collected a set of Headteacher ‘Top-Tips’ for motivating staff and the wider community to make the most of investments in technology in their schools.
The third relates to philanthropic foundations. How can foundations use their resources and status outside government to support innovation and EdTech? We explore the wide range of roles that foundations can play - from brokering complicated relationships between gov and non-gov actors, to plugging gaps in funding pipeline with patient and flexible capital.
As education systems around the world continue to struggle, it is paramount that we harness the potential of technology to transform our schools - both improving current efforts, and opening up new opportunities.
This report is the result of a valuable partnership between Nesta, Nesta Italia and Fondazione per la scuola. The report will be launched also in Italian, with an event held in Turin in September.