To say the last 12 months have been a challenge for the education world would be a major understatement. While the COVID-19 pandemic has touched all of us in one way or another and its impact has been felt in every corner of every industry, its impact on education is arguably what has earned it the most column inches. Schools are now looking to bring students back to the classroom, meaning further change for children, teachers and IT managers alike.
The disruption caused by the move to remote teaching over the last year has highlighted many of the challenges IT managers face when attempting to support all types of learning. So we carried out a survey to find out more. We asked IT managers how they managed to survive 2020, what their concerns are for 2021, and how they’re hoping to better their school’s IT going forward.
Of all the data drawn from the study, perhaps the most telling statistic was the 72% of IT managers who felt that students didn’t have the equipment required to learn remotely. This was a profound hurdle to overcome and it’s one that has gathered consistent media coverage in recent months.
The government and countless independent charities and foundations have been doing all they can to provide IT equipment to those children who don’t have access to the internet. But there are still thousands of children without the laptops and reliable internet connections they need to ensure remote learning is a viable alternative to classroom-based learning. This is a fundamental concern that underpins all others but even for those who were technically able to gain access to the remote learning resources, there were still major challenges to overcome.
In some regards, it’s better that the pandemic happened today as opposed to thirty years ago. At least today we have the technology in place to give students and teachers flexibility in terms of how learning is delivered. Platforms such as Google Classroom, Microsoft OneNote and Seesaw represent complete virtual classroom solutions through which students and teachers can communicate and share work remotely at any time.
But just because technology has evolved to allow these kinds of interactions it doesn’t mean we’ve necessarily evolved in our understanding of it. For many of our surveyed IT managers, one of the most significant challenges was that pupils and parents were not tech-savvy enough and struggled to follow instructions remotely.
Live lessons can also be problematic, as many households will be sharing their technology, particularly in instances where parents are also working from home. This is why some schools have decided to work via platforms that don’t rely on live video streaming. This way, lessons can be completed in a time that suits individual family circumstances. It also means, however, that teachers have almost been forced to become ICT specialists overnight, solving technological queries with which they are ill-equipped to cope.
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The most difficult challenge to overcome, however, aside from the lack of reliable equipment, was the lack of training and staff competence in using these remote tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom. Of course, it could be argued that everyone is learning as they go and there simply wasn’t time to train everyone. But that was a year ago now and more needs to be done to bring teachers, students and their parents up to speed. Particularly when it comes to remote troubleshooting, which our IT managers pinpointed as another major challenge.
Student engagement was also a challenge, with many children overwhelmed by this new normal and teachers struggling to reach them through remote channels. Of course, this is not a problem that can be solved by technology alone but one that requires almost a sea change in the way lessons are conducted. A much larger topic to unpack. There was even concern amongst some IT managers about the security of these new remote systems, with password management a particular worry.
The move to remote learning was a huge, unexpected change that was never going to go down without a hitch. But it could be argued that it revealed several areas in which school IT in the UK was already lacking. These problems are not simply going to disappear when schools return on March 8. It could be that they stand out even more as teachers attempt to help many students catch up. In any case, IT is going to play a crucial role in bringing everyone up to speed and drawing a line under the last chaotic 12 months.