Damian Hinds launches another edtech revolution

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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.

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7 thoughts on “Damian Hinds launches another edtech revolution

  1. I look forward to your profile of oooor John Swinney.

    I somehow doubt its just one glass of wine he stares wistfully over – no Scottish stereo-type reference intended. At around 12.09 Labour ask their Qs
    https://www.scottishparliament.tv/meeting/first-ministers-questions-june-28-2018
    John’s boss does not look happy (again).

    One difference between the new Eng minister & the Scots one is that the latter has had vision chipped away at by unions & LAs whereas Mr H is backing a winner; of sorts maybe but there will be more tech at schools nae doot

  2. Thank you for bringing a smile to my face first thing in the morning!

    I have lived/ worked through the numerous IT/ tech revolutions in the past. Remember the competency qualification we all had to do around the late 1990s here in the U.K.?

    Fortunately, I work in one of the worst funded local authorities so we are yet to have an interactive white board in every classroom and it is still a dream of ours to be able to afford WiFi. This hasn’t hindered the quality of learning- we have some of the most impressive GCSE results in the country for a non-selective state funded school and our students make great progress. I’m hoping that the continued lack of funding will mean that I never get a 3D projector in my classroom. I hate the thought of novelty dinosaurs coming to life above our heads and distracting from the real learning!

    Ps – the new book is fab!

  3. Right behind you on this one. I thought that ICT was starting to go on the nose a bit as people realised it was way too expensive for the minimal gains it has delivered. Seems that bandwagon is still chugging. I fail to be “wowed” when others utter “wow!”. In my experience:

    – Email
    – Centralised attendance / reports / assessment system (which most schools or jurisdictions have been able to design and create for themselves comparatively cheaply)
    – Large screen (interactive whiteboards are overrated) for content including videos – for explicit teaching of a skill, you can film yourself explaining it and screen it during a lesson, while non-“virtual” you (the real you) can check on individual students’ understanding while they do the task

    You’ll find that Diane Ravitch is one of the biggest critics of IT dominating education, mainly because the tech giants are trying to transform and effectively dismantle public education.

    1. One of my children resolutely refuses to take a laptop computer to school; does fine, fewer distractions, better learning from taking notes than tapping on a keyboard (where you cannot easily draw diagrams, use a quick arrow to connecd one note to another, etc.). I also prefer my notebook (real paper one) in meetings and for serious stuff like summarising books that I seek to learn from.

  4. Greg,
    You will likely be unsurprised to learn that The Ladybird Book of Business Management is prolifically used in business…accounting for the flood of half digested mis-understood but very fashionable ideas producing little more than a spiral of time-wasting.

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