Using Technology in Schools Should Be a Given?

Many teachers qualified when 'using technology' meant rolling out a TV on wheels, or doing something truly exotic with PowerPoint. There is very little point banging on about teachers having twenty-first century skills, we should have been there 15 years ago.

Many schools have the kind of reactions to using technology that you anticipate when someone in a small dingy is being circled by a shark. From blind panic, la-la-la pretend it isn't happening, to a totally reactive out of proportion response.

The future is now. I don't mean a flashy Minority Report future, but a future that many teachers could not have imagined when we began our careers. Many, in fact most, of the children in our classroom come pre-armed with phones smarter and more powerful than the computers that navigated man to the moon. It is a travesty that many schools feel more comfortable banning these devices than they do empowering students to use them to benefit their learning. It is typical of a reactive approach that many schools feel forced into taking; fearful of the unknown and lacking in expertise in how the guide children in using the internet safely, many schools turn to an education fail-safe - just ban the device and try to hide the problem. Tiptoeing around issues of e-safety will not help our young people navigate in a world of snap chat, cyber bullying and sexting. Schools need to confront these issues head on, realising that demonising the internet is about as effective as a deterrent to children as throwing paraffin at a fire to put it out. The internet can be a dark and scary place, but it should be the job of teachers to guide our learners in how to use it, not with token examples of potential employers looking at Facebook profiles, but really understanding how and why the internet can be used to improve not only education, but also communication.

Many teachers qualified when 'using technology' meant rolling out a TV on wheels, or doing something truly exotic with PowerPoint. There is very little point banging on about teachers having twenty-first century skills, we should have been there 15 years ago. Even the keenest and IT savvy in the profession are often outpaced and overwhelmed. Being up to date in understanding how to use technology in the classroom so that it is more than a gimmick requires an input of time and effort than many who are full time in a classroom feel they cannot afford. Can you imagine being an NQT in the current educational climate and getting to grips with how to use technology in your classroom? No. That's because amongst the pressure of everything else it is basically impossible. Let me throw drowning teaching a lifeline: In a world where we fetishize the new, many classroom technologies have stood the test of time and we need not always seek to blow our department budgets on the latest imported technological solutions. The technological what-works will not always be found in the latest catalogue, but instead in sharing effective practice with those around you.

In an age where schools do 'Mock-sted's' (a fake OFSTED to suitably petrify the staff) it could be considered that some institutions would be better investing this time into nurturing their staff's use of IT and giving them the chance to play with it without risk of failure. This is reflective of a profession as a whole faces demands to prove how rigorous it is over and over again, and is continually demonised by the media. Teachers are seldom afforded the time to really grow the kind of skills they will need to inhabit that virtual spaces favoured by learners.

Only last week an OCR chief caused a stir by commenting that students should be able to access websites, such as Google in exams. This use of technology sees right into the core of what our job actually is. Do we stuff learners full of facts to pass exams, or do we equip them with the skills they need to function in their future work place? Many teachers, I am optimistic, would see the value of both. However the furore that was caused by the comments over using Google in exams is exemplary of the uneasy relationship that the education system as a whole still has with technology. In a practical sense, many employers do embrace search skills and we expect employees to be able to do this effectively. Ask yourself, how long can so called 'employability skills' taught in schools continue to ignore this basic skill?

Believe me, I know schools are under tremendous pressure. There are children arriving having eaten no breakfast alongside the symptoms of persistent poverty, we have learners who are abused and neglected and learners with massive behavioural issues. Don't get me wrong. These are part of what makes the job of every teacher increasingly difficult. However, in failing to teach those in our classrooms about the how and why of using technology safely, we are doing them a massive disservice, and one that in the long term will impact their future prospects. If we as teachers fail to adapt, and make use of the technology in our classrooms, we are denying children learning opportunities that could be life changing.


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