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May 21 BigDug
May 21 BigDug

Blended learning – Why investment is critical to the future of education

April 18, 2021, 14:04 GMT+1
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  • Nigel Attwood asks what’s the future of blended learning and how successful has it been?...
Blended learning – Why investment is critical to the future of education

There is much to be proud of in schools where the remote learning offer is concerned.

Teachers, and support staff, had to learn something completely new, create a package that was differentiated and supportive of home learning (and to support families) in a very short amount of time – and did this with their usual enthusiasm for wanting to do the best for their children.

Despite a lack of funding for training and resources in schools, the examples of learning platforms that I have seen, with their cross-curricular links, support videos and the sheer variety of work created, has been a testament to our profession.

However, is remote learning the future? The answer is not simple. On one hand, IT and the online world is very much here, and here to stay, and schools are an integral part of ensuring children are ready for a 21st Century, IT-led world. On the other hand, the UK is just not prepared. Digital poverty is a key component of this.

Connectivity and online learning

Working in a school where FSMs are at 57 per cent, this was all too evident. A large proportion of our families do not have appropriate wifi or devices (or quiet space) for their children to access the learning for at least four hours a day.

Indeed, even with the school loaning devices and providing Sim cards or dongles, many still struggled. By the time we were five weeks into Lockdown 3.0, over 30 per cent of our families were picking up weekly paper-based learning packs due to connectivity issues or because it was difficult to motivate their child to learn online.

And the UK’s national infrastructure? We know there is a £5billion plan to get 1000mb/sec internet to the ‘hardest to reach 20 per cent’ by 2025 (1 million). But the cost to many families creates a choice – pay the heating bill and make sure there is food or pay for the internet.

Schools have struggled to keep up with the speed with which technology changes, with almost half of teachers saying that schools do not have enough technology (EdTech Report, 2020). Added to this is the fact that 60 per cent of teachers feel there is not enough training.

Much of this is due to funding issues in education: yes, we have had almost 1.3 million devices into schools to loan out to children when they are not in school – but this again creates issues.

Charging stations and IT preparation work costs. And the biggest issue – schools loaning devices to children – but when the children are back in full-time education the devices are returned, re-creating the same issues, with companies and schools trying to source devices children can keep.

Investment in EdTech

My biggest concern is the lack of investment that will hinder our children. Estonia (20 years ago well below the UK in PISA ratings) completely rethought education and put a long term plan into action.

With real investment in education and technology, within ten years they had overtaken the UK in the PISA rankings and currently stand nine places above the UK.

Remote learning is something we need and need to get used to. Without real investment in the national digital infrastructure; without tackling digital poverty; without real investment and a real focus on what education needs to look like for the 21st-century child, remote learning will be an add on that will not achieve what it is designed to do – allow communication, interaction and continued, consistent, high-quality learning, adapted for the different styles of learning we all have.

Nigel Attwood is headteacher at Bellfield Junior School, Birmingham.