In the run up to the new academic year, there has been much speculation as to what measures will need to be put into place to ensure the safety of staff and pupils as they return to classes. At the time of writing, the UK government says that class size restrictions will be lifted so that all pupils we be able to return the classroom, and the Scottish Government has confirmed that pupils will return to class full-time in August. Nevertheless, it’s certain that pupils will be required to self-isolate when outbreaks occur – with contact tracing and testing being used to minimise disruption.
In order to properly prepare for an uncertain future, we need to ask several questions. What should schools be doing to ensure that all pupils have equal access to education, regardless of their background or situation? Can digital and tech solutions be used to deliver a full curriculum to remote learners – and does this give us a glimpse into how lessons will be taught in the future? And as digital technology is on course to play a larger role in work and education, what skills should pupils should be learning today to prepare for the tech jobs of tomorrow?
Continuity management planning
There’s no doubt that, while schools across the UK have worked hard to continue education during lockdown, remote learning will have inevitably had some negative impact on progress for many students. According to McKinsey, “Recent analysis projects that students (in the United States) could return in the fall having progressed only 70 percent of a grade in reading and less than 50 percent of a grade in math during the 2019–20 school year”.
Some schools, however, were more prepared than others. By implementing what was, in effect, a business continuity plan for schools, Radnor House, a co-educational day school in Kent, was able to deliver a full syllabus during lockdown with virtually no disruption.
As part of its commitment to delivering the best education for its pupils, Radnor House uses digital technology to facilitate remote learning and collaboration for all its senior school pupils. Its enthusiastic adoption of digital collaboration tools allowed the school to move swiftly to a remote learning environment when the need arose.
Several weeks before schools were closed, teachers at Radnor House adapted lessons for the virtual environment and tested them in live classes. As a result, the school was able to iron out any issues with the technology and ensure all teachers and students knew how to access the information and tools they needed. During lockdown students attended group lessons, a weekly assembly and one-to-one sessions with teachers using Microsoft Teams. They also completed assignments using Office 365. The scheme has been widely praised by parents and the school has seen a spike in requests for new placements.
Insight assisted Radnor House with choosing and procuring Microsoft Surface Pro devices for its students, negotiated a favourable Office 365 licensing deal with Microsoft, and provided ongoing support for the school’s IT team. Credit also goes to the school for the way it pro-actively sought to engage with the latest digital technology. By equipping students with the right devices and software and rehearsing the delivery of remote lessons the classroom, it was fully prepared to embrace remote learning.
It is clear from this example that remote working solutions should play a key role in providing education for all schools going forward, enabling them to deliver a full curriculum to remote learners when the need arises. But for it to be successful, all students need to have access to the right tools – not only the software, but the hardware too.
Devices – the key to providing equal access to education for all
One of the biggest barriers educational establishments will face in providing equal access to remote learning, is ensuring that all pupils have devices to complete assignments on. For schools to provide education through Microsoft Office 365, Teams and other collaboration tools, pupils must have access to an appropriate connected device. Expecting schools to pay the upfront cost of devices for all pupils is unrealistic and presents a capital expenditure challenge – especially as public sector funds are already stretched.
Insight’s 1:1 for Education initiative aims to help schools overcome this issue. The program, which Insight already delivers to many schools, puts a device in the hands of each student, at no cost to the school. By allowing parents to pay a monthly fee, the scheme helps the school to deliver remote learning to as many students as possible and parents avoid the upfront cost of purchasing a device.
Repton School in Derbyshire used Insight’s 1:1 scheme to provide Microsoft Surface 4 Pro devices for each of its pupils, giving them access to one of the best hybrid devices on the market with no cost to the school. The school worked with Insight once again, updating their to devices to the very latest on the market: Microsoft Surface 6 Pro. Insight is currently in the process of rolling out 25 different 1:1 scheme for secondaries across the country using affordable HP, Dell and Lenovo devices.
Giving students access to digital tools for education has another benefit, too – it helps them to acquire skills they will need when entering the workplace.
Preparing students for the tech jobs of the future
According to a recent Universities UK report an estimated 65% of children entering primary schools today will work in jobs and functions that don’t currently exist. Many parents feel that there is not enough focus on teaching children about technology and that schools should be looking to do more to prepare students for a fast-changing digital future. Scotland’s tech industry, for example, is one of the fastest growing in the country, but there has been a 12% decline in pupils studying computer science at school. It’s also likely that more traditional professions will continue to be transformed by digital technology. Some businesses have already noted that many young employees show a lack of knowledge of basic Microsoft tools.
Insight is working with a new partner, Kano, to put a new kind of digital device into the hands of students. Kano PC is a modular Windows 10 device built by the creators of Raspberry Pi, in partnership with Microsoft. Pupils can build their own modular laptop, helping them to learn how computers work and understand the role of components like processors and memory. It is affordable, repairable and upgradable – bringing benefits to schools, parents, pupils and the environment. Specifically designed for education, it also encourages pupils to use code to create art, games and music – ideal for remote learning. While the partnership with kano is in its early stages, it clearly has the potential to be combined with Insight’s 1:1 Education scheme – helping to provide access to digital learning for all pupils and to prepare today’s students for the jobs of tomorrow.
Insight is constantly seeking to create new opportunities for clients, have a positive impact on people’s lives, and encourage working together more effectively through technology – and nowhere is this more appropriate than in the education sector.
Lockdown has taught us that schools should have effective planning in place to avoid disruption and need to adopt remote learning technology. Pupils also need to have equal access to connected devices, which can be facilitated through initiatives like Insight’s Education 1:1 scheme. Digital technology is on course to play a larger role in work and education in the future, and pupils should be engaging more with digital technology. Insight is working with the makers of Kano P, a modular Windows 10 device that is affordable and repairable, facilitates remote learning, helps children understand how computers work and encourages them to program their own music, art and games.