27/02/20

British classrooms are becoming flooded with innovative technology, placing the UK at the forefront of a classroom revolution, new research shows.

The way in which technology is used in classrooms today – often referred to as ed technology – is becoming an integral part of children’s lives and transforming the way in which students learn.

From mixed reality lessons and coding kits to digital textbooks and tapping into video gaming as a learning tool, British tech companies are taking a leading role in integrating more advanced technology into the education model.

Far from the IT lessons that parents of today’s schoolchildren may remember, teachers now use interactive smart board screens instead of chalk boards; children use tablets to complete quizzes on their most recently read book, and tap colourful smartphone apps to solve maths challenges at home. Some teachers even use special social sharing apps to keep parents in the loop about children’s achievements throughout the day.

One parent from Halfway Houses Primary in Kent, said: “There’s no point in hiding how much technology influences our lives now. They still do all their work by hand, which is good, but the tech and apps benefit my son because it makes it fun and he knows how to use this stuff.

“They are the tech generation and everything is so accessible, so no point in shying away from it. Even my toddler has a giant iPad at nursery to play interactive nursery rhymes.”

UK Ed Tech Market Booming

The education technology industry us set to be worth £128bn globally by next year – up from £45bn in 2015. And the technology coming thick and fast is said to be giving students all over the world a huge helping hand.

Though the US and UK have been battling it out for supremacy in the sector, the UK market seems to be booming. Edtech in the UK is set to be worth £3.4bn in 2021, with £170m worth of edtech exports. According to Beauhurst, £90.9m has been invested in UK edtech companies since 2017.

One company benefiting from this boom is Perlego, a London-based startup offering students a digital library of more than 250,000 textbooks for a monthly fee. The company has raised more than £10m from angel investors and has been dubbed the ‘Spotify of textbooks’.

Meanwhile, Kano Computing sells kits that teach children how to build their own computer and then code on it. The kits are powered by Raspberry Pi and the company has raised a reported £4m in funding from the likes of Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff.

Children using tech in classroom

Kano chief executive Alex Klein believes that the next revolution in computing is building and coding to become almost as easy as using a computer. Kano sells its kits all around the world, including North America, as part of a global push to introduce coding at a young age.

Many of Kano’s kits are licensed versions based on popular films like Harry Potter, Frozen and Star Wars. The latter teaches users how to code by making a lightsabre swing on screen.

One of John Lewis’ top toys for Christmas in 2019 was US company Learning Resources’ Coding Critters, a storybook and toy set that teaches children as young as four to code simple commands.

The reason games engage students so well is that they bring together art, maths, creative writing and science so beautifully and brilliantly.

Shahneila SaeedDigital Schoolhouse Programme Director

Many of these companies’ products are in part a response to the growing IT skills gap that is said to cost UK businesses £6.3bn a year. The UKIE Digital Schoolhouse initiative, run by UK video games trade body UKIE and backed by the British arm of gaming giant Nintendo, is offering participating schools free creative computing programmes in a bid to encourage more computing skills from within the classroom.

The initiative also hosts a Super Smash Bros esports tournament to give students an insight into different career paths.

Experts say that with so many of our lives now operating in the digital world – and an IT skills shortage across the country – teaching our children digital literacy should be as essential as any other subject.

Digital Schoolhouse programme director Shahneila Saeed said: “Computing is wider than programming. There hasn’t been enough of a focus on the way we teach. The reason games engage students so well is that they bring together art, maths, creative writing and science so beautifully and brilliantly.”

Video games have been widely used as a backdrop to engage children in STEM subjects, along with mixed reality technology which has been utilised more recently. The Sevenoaks School in Kent used virtual reality headsets to experience 3D artworks, while in Philosophy classes, students could put Descartes’ dream argument to the test in VR.

Another UK-based startup called Curiscope has developed an augmented reality t-shirt that allows children to explore the anatomy of the human body via an app. The t-shirt is called the ‘Virtuali-Tee’.

Meanwhile, Exeter-based company Sparx has developed an AI-based maths platform that offers students tailor-made class and homework assignments. Teachers in Exeter schools are using the platform to improve individual tutoring for children, and the company claims the reduced admin can cut a teacher’s workload drastically.

“Lots of words, little action”

Unfortunately, getting these exciting technologies and innovations into the hands of teachers and children is proving to be more of a challenge.

In April 2019, Damian Hinds, former education secretary, announced a strategy for “leading tech companies to work with schools and colleges to cut teacher workload, support professional development and improve student outcomes.”

However, Ty Goddard of the Education Foundation says that prior to this announcement, there had been “lots of words and little action” from the Government about an edtech strategy.

Speaking to the Telegraph he said: “The strategy is okay and is slowly rolling out with plans for testbeds, demonstrator schools and colleges. But what we really need is cross Whitehall verve and commitment to the whole sector. Its a skills, jobs and growth creator. Perfunctory and silo activity cross Whitehall will not properly harness export capability or the domestic jobs agenda.”

Perlego founder Gauthier Van Malderen agrees that more needs to be done.

“I will always welcome any action designed to support the sector’s growth and development. However, I have witnessed very little in tangible measures to date,” he says.

“I’d like to see more done to incentivise usage of the domestic edtech sector – for example, subsiding purchases from edtech companies.”

According to Goddard, edtech will need more sustained support from the Government and faculties to ensure the UK stays ahead of the curve.

“We need a sector deal to nurture growing hubs all over the country and link and listen to educators,” he says.

“Edtech businesses also face procurement and investment challenges – the education market is a long, slow burn.”