Curates egg, maybe, so far-but Nesta sees huge potential

Nesta believes that, through its past work, it has come ‘to recognise an innovation deficit at the intersection of technology and education; students today inhabit a rich digital environment, but it is insufficiently utilised to support learning’.

The education sector has invested heavily in digital technology, ‘but this investment has not yet resulted in the radical improvements to learning experiences and educational attainment’. Something of understatement here- part of the problem is that ICT has  , rather too often. been oversold, or miss sold, to schools by suppliers whose motivation is their profit margin rather than the needs of pupils. They have also exploited the lack of technical knowledge and procurement naivety in some schools. Too many schools have invested in technology and software that they don’t need that ties them into a long term financial commitment  and which has little  demonstrable effect  on outcomes. The BSF programme must carry some blame for this too.  When the BSF programme was operating schools  complained that they have lost freedom over their IT budgets, and were  forced to buy expensive equipment through designated suppliers.  Armando Di-Finizio, the head of Brunel Academy,at the cutting edge of ICT schools use,  said that millions of pounds were being wasted on “white elephant” technology in schools. He said that his school — the first to be rebuilt under BSF — had on-going technical difficulties. “ We suffered with the ICT that’s the one area of the school that… it’s been very, very difficult and you do need your back-up plans. The school was designed to be completely wireless, it went for all the gimmicks and gismos and it was going to be fantastic. I have yet to see a school that works really effectively wirelessly.” (the wireless network had, indeed, fallen over under the strain of hundreds of students trying to use it at once). He suggested a fixation with constantly updating classrooms with the latest gadgets. To be fair, doubtless leant on by the department, he sought to qualify his remarks later and stressed some of the positives but he was not the only Head to have worries and concerns. There are, of course, positives but we must remember that policy and practice should be evidence based, and led. This has not always informed the approach to ICT in learning and schools.

This is what Joe Nutt said, in the CFBT Education Trust report ‘Professional educators and the evolving role of ICT in schools – Perspective report’:

‘Claims for how technology can improve educational performance in schools are widespread and  influential yet the research evidence is extremely weak and the discourse is often clouded and  confused by the motives and interests of some key individuals and organisations. Nonetheless, huge investments have been made and continue to be made across the developed and the developing world.’

An Ofsted report on ICT in schools found ‘ only a few had evaluated the effectiveness of previous investment  (in ICT)or developed costed plans for rolling future investment’

This Nesta report confirms that ‘adopting new technologies can be expensive, especially when considering the total costs of ownership that include installation, training, upkeep, and (ultimately) replacement.’  In 2011, the Review of Education Capital found that maintained schools spent £487 million on ICT equipment and services in 2009-2010. Since then, the education system has entered a state of flux with changes to the curriculum, shifts in funding, and increasing school autonomy. Nesta, though, is pretty optimistic about what the future holds for ICT in schools.

‘This report sets out where proof, promise and potential lie for technology in education.  It then identifies the contextual factors and actions needed to ensure current and future opportunities for school children take full advantage of technology for learning.’

Crucially, it observes that ‘over recent decades, many efforts to realise the potential of digital technology in education have made two key errors. Collectively, they have put the technology above teaching and excitement above evidence. This means they have spent more time, effort and money looking to find the digital silver bullet that will transform learning than they have into evolving teaching practice to make the most of technology. If we are to make progress we need to clarify the nature of the goal we want to satisfy through future innovation. Much existing teaching practice may well not benefit greatly from new technologies. As we continue to develop our understanding of technology’s proof, potential and promise, we have an unprecedented opportunity to improve learning experiences in the classroom and beyond’

Note  Nesta is the UK’s innovation foundation.: ‘We help people and organisations bring great ideas to life. We do this by providing investments and grants and mobilising research, networks and skills.’

Decoding Learning:  The Proof, Promise and Potential of Digital Education-Rosemary Luckin, , Brett Bligh, Andrew Manches,  Sharon Ainsworth,  Charles Crook, Richard Noss  November 2012

A cautionary note. This is what a World Bank report said in 2005:

‘The impact of ICT use on learning outcomes is unclear, and open to much debate. Widely accepted, standard methodologies and indicators to assess impact of ICTs in education do not exist… Despite a decade of large investment in ICTs to benefit education in OECD countries, and increasing use of ICTs in education in developing countries, important gaps remain in the current knowledge base. In addition, there appears to be a dearth of useful resources attempting to translate what is known to work – and not work.’

Truncano, M. (2005) Knowledge Maps: ICT in Education ,Washington, DC: infoDev/World Bank,


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