Let’s face it, few aspiring politicians take a glass of wine in hand, stare wistfully into the middle distance and, in hushed tones, inform their partners that, “One day, if I work hard and keep my nose clean, I might be education minister.” It’s not why they are in the game. They want to be the big boss and, failing that, they want to be something sexy and important like a finance or foreign minister.
This is pretty obvious when you examine most, but by no means all, of the education ministers who are in post. They invariably reach for The Ladybird Book of Business Management, point to a page at random that says something generic like ‘outsourcing’ or ‘wellbeing’ and try to make it into a policy, demonstrating once and for all that generic capacities of leadership are no substitute for domain knowledge.
In many cases, ministers alight upon technology. After all, we keep hearing about how technology has disrupted and transformed the world of business, or at least how some businesses from Silicon Valley have disrupted some other businesses. So technology must be the answer. And, what’s more, tech solutions can be a relatively cheap way of looking active, as in the case of Simon Birmingham, the Australian education minister, and his fondness for apps.
You can imagine Damian Hinds arriving for the first time at the British education ministry and being mildly baffled by policy about a ‘knowledge rich curriculum’ and the like. To a generalist, this would seem tautological, kooky and perhaps a little retro. Of course, to those of us in the know, it is increasingly clear that a quality curriculum is vital to any successful education reform, as Dylan Wiliam demonstrates at length in his most recent book.
But a new incumbent has to have a big idea and it has to be different in some way. So, Damian Hinds picked up The Ladybird Book of Business Management and decided to develop a policy invoking the white heat of technology or something. This back-to-the-future move was covered in the Times Educational Supplement (TES) alongside some interesting footnotes.
Apparently, an edtech revolution will enable children to explore the rainforest from their desks while also cutting teacher workload. Hurrah! And it won’t be anything like the failed British edtech revolution of the naughties that saw interactive whiteboards installed in every classroom with zero impact. No, it won’t be anything like that. Not at all.
I researched edtech for The Truth about Teaching and others such as Larry Cuban have offered a long and detailed commentary. The history is not encouraging. Edtech invariably over-promises and under-delivers. The gains it produces are usually humble and prosaic and its failures are expensive and conspicuous. But don’t worry, Damian Hinds, you’ll probably be in the foreign ministry by then.
Who is the department of education partnering with in order to deliver its vision? That will be the British Educational Suppliers’ Association alongside that independent voice championing the grassroots of the teaching profession, The Chartered College of Teaching.