Costly hi-tech kit lies unused in schools, says study

By Judith Burns
BBC News education reporter

  • Published
Girls using tablet computers
Image caption,
Technology has the power to transform schools, claims the report

Costly digital technology that has the power to transform education often sits in boxes because teachers do not know how best to use it, a study claims.

Researchers for the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) say there is clear evidence that technology can boost learning.

Their report sets out examples of best practice from all over the world.

Chief executive Geoff Mulgan said: "The emphasis is too often on shiny hardware rather than how it is to be used."

The researchers estimate that schools in England alone spent more than £1.4bn on technology in the past three years but they claim that all too often it is not being used to its "full promise and potential".

The team, from the University of Nottingham and the London-based Institute of Education Knowledge Lab, looked at evidence from hundreds of academic papers, blogs and reviews from all over the globe.

Right training

They found there was no question that hardware such as interactive whiteboards, digital tablets or software such as educational games could help improve pupils' learning if used properly.

But they say that too often they are used without a strong understanding of their power to transform education, and many schools still use technology to support 20th Century teaching methods and learning objectives.

Associate professor Shaaron Ainsworth from the University of Nottingham told BBC News: "We are saying that technology could be much more effective if teachers and learners are given the right sort of training and use it in the right sort of ways.

"We have lots of examples of brilliant use of technology from all over the world and this report brings them all together."

Mr Mulgan said: "A tablet replacing an exercise book is not innovation, it's just a different way to make notes.

"There is incredible potential for digital technology in and beyond the classroom but it is vital to rethink how learning is organised if we are to reap the rewards."

For example, he said that digital technology offered vast opportunities for pupils to learn with others but these ideas were simply not filtering through to the education system where tests and examinations still focus on individual attainment.

'Victorian system'

The report, Decoding Learning, says that for the past decade technology has been put ahead of teaching, and excitement at innovation has been put ahead of what actually helps children learn.

It calls on experts from industry and education to work together to harness technology to "put learning first".

Dominic Savage of the British Educational Suppliers Association welcomed the report: "Schools should only invest in technology when they understand what they want to do with it and what it will achieve."

He said that while money had been wasted in the past, there was now plenty of information available to help schools understand what technology to buy and how best to use it.

Valerie Thompson of the E-learning foundation called for the education system to embrace technology. "Consider the consequences of continuing to subject young people to an education system rooted in the Victorian era as a preparation for a post-school period of study and work in a digital age," she said.

"If Nesta can use their significant financial clout to accelerate the adoption of best practice in schools across the country, and make sure that our education ministers are made aware of the extraordinary things that teachers are doing so that they are encouraged and not criticised, then perhaps this report will have made a positive contribution."

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