How can technology help British students to acquire the skills they need to succeed? This is the question that Matthew Hancock, Minister for Skills & Enterprise, addressed this morning at a Spectator forum on the importance of addressing Britain’s skills deficit. On the same day, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills released their response to a report they commissioned in a bid to embrace technological advances in further education.
Modern technology has the ability to break down so many educational barriers, as Molly Guinness discovered in her interview with the scientist Sugata Mitra in May, who used a computer installed in a public wall to develop the Sole method of learning, which he believes could revolutionise our classrooms. Other methods mentioned by Hancock in his speech include School of One, a customised maths programme currently used in the US, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which are now being used in Britain, in OCR’s Computing GCSE. Children are already learning through iPhones – as Hancock himself said: ‘When I was 7, maths meant workbooks, pencils and pocket calculators. For my 7-year-old daughter, maths means playing on my iPhone, where she loves the fantastic NIACE app Maths Everywhere’.
But our school systems need to adopt these developments even more. In his speech, and in the DBIS report, Hancock highlights the changes being made, which include allocating funding to ensure all colleges have adequate internet connections, and working together with Ofqual to increase their use of e-assessments, which help teachers to pinpoint exactly where, and why, students are going wrong.
Of course technology is not the only area in which our education system should develop to ensure British children gain the skills they need. As Hancock later pointed out, only 1 in 5 girls who achieve an A* in GCSE Physics go on to study it at A-level, compared to almost half of boys who achieve the same result. Giving Britain the skills it needs isn’t simply about technology. The government has succeeded in ‘reversing the long-term depreciation of vocational education’, but STEM subjects are still less popular overall among young women than among men. Technology certainly has its part to play, but it’s not a catch-all solution.