STEM Matters: The COVID-19 crisis will accelerate EdTech adoption

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

02 June 2020

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The current coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown has had a dramatic and pervasive impact on almost every facet of our society and daily lives – including education.

A version of this column was originally featured in the June 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

Schools, colleges and universities – in common with offices, factories, shops, cafés, restaurants, pubs, gyms, theatres, cinemas and live music venues – have had to close, and children and students, along with their parents, are having to adjust to spending their days at home, rather than in their normal place of learning. Exams have also been cancelled for GCSE & A-level students, although universities are still planning to host online examinations & assessments. Meanwhile, teachers and educators are having to try and figure out how to deliver some kind of education in these new and unprecedented circumstances...

With most governments around the world temporarily closing their schools and other educational institutions in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization) estimates these nationwide closures are now impacting around 70% of the world’s student population. This totals more than 1.2 billion affected learners across 156 country-wide closures – with several other countries (including the US, Australia, Russia and China) implementing localised closures impacting millions of additional learners. In the UK alone, over 15 million students are affected: almost 2.5M at tertiary (further & higher) education level; 6.4M at secondary; a further 4.8M at primary; and the remainder at pre-primary.

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The implications for the education sector are enormous, with disruption at a scale rarely experienced before, and are due to be examined in a wide-ranging inquiry by the UK Parliament’s Education Select Committee. It will look at how the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting all aspects of the education sector, exploring both short term impacts, such as the effects of school closures and exam cancellations, as well as longer-term implications, particularly for the most vulnerable children. Committee chair, Robert Halfon MP has said: “The coronavirus outbreak is going to have a deep and long-lasting impact right across the education sector.”

A key impact is likely to be an acceleration in the use of educational technology – EdTech – in schools and other learning environments. While EdTech usage as a tool to complement teaching and facilitate learning has been steadily growing, especially in STEM subjects, this crisis will see the adoption curve rapidly accelerate. In particular, schools, colleges and universities everywhere are stepping up their use of remote collaboration and learning platforms as a means to try to maintain learning continuity and deliver the best educational experience they can in very challenging circumstances.

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But even as the crisis subsides and life begins to return to normal, we can probably expect this acceleration to continue, as budgets are squeezed and some of the resistance to EdTech adoption is broken down. And as younger, more receptive and tech-savvy digital natives enter the teaching workforce, this trend is likely to continue – as they help drive creative new ways to use EdTech. Technology such as robotics, coding tools and single board computers such as Raspberry Pi or BBC micro:bit, 3D printing, AI and virtual/augmented reality will become embedded in the curriculum, helping to make learning more engaging, immersive and impactful for students.

RS Components surveyed teachers across the UK in its 2019 EdTech Report, noting that although the UK government has plans for a £10 million strategy for EdTech in schools, there is still a lack of understanding among teachers when it comes to educational technology. According to the survey, only half of teachers say they know what EdTech is – and 1 in 10 have never even heard of it. As well as awareness, training is also an issue, with more than half of teachers saying they don’t believe there is enough available – sometimes resulting in EdTech investments being wasted as kit sits idle due to lack of training and lingering resistance.

It will be vital for EdTech providers to work hard to try and overcome these objections and roadblocks, helping ensure that the technology is easy to use, with sufficient training and support available, and that it delivers real tangible benefits for teachers and students alike. If it can successfully do that, then adoption will surely continue to grow – and EdTech will play an important role in seeding a revolution in both teaching and learning.


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