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In 2020 let's focus on releasing EdTech from its shackles


A couple of years ago I was asked how the classroom of the future might look. I had a vision of students having the ability to enter a virtual ‘Learning Zone’ from wherever they happened to be.

Sign pointing to learning zone

Social interaction is paramount to human development and the Learning Zone would take this to another level. Teachers would remain central to learning, but empowered as learning facilitators rather than learning deliverers, with a myriad of virtual resources available at their fingertips.

Once in ‘the zone’ a student would don his or her VR headset and be transported to a global learning environment populated by fellow students and subject matter experts from all over the world. Knowledge and experiences could be shared through stories and first-hand accounts of life in other countries.

Instead of being shoehorned into class groups by age, students would be clustered by learning style, knowledge and ability. Each would receive the attention and support they need to help them discover where their individual talents lie and be given the opportunity to be the best they can be. In this virtual learning nirvana, there would be no need to exclude any pupil – all would be catered for.

Vocational learning would have the same parity of esteem as academic learning and so called ‘second class’ routes to employment would be a thing of the past. Success would be measured by individual wellbeing and fulfilment – not just by earning capacity – coupled with the positive impact inclusive education and knowledge would inevitably have on communities.

Student using VR to learn

Far fetched? Yes, for the foreseeable future. It would require a massive shift in thinking and the first step would be to convince parents, teachers, employers and decision makers in governments to embrace the concept and put funding behind its development. Until then, education technology will always be constrained. EdTech companies need to make sales to survive, and they can’t make sales unless they develop solutions that can be used to support education systems as they are today, not how they might look in the future.

"Our focus for 2020 should be for teachers, education leaders, government and EdTech companies to consider what the long-term vision for our education system should be."

Those discussions are critical if the sector is to agree a realistic way forward. Action is required sooner rather than later, because the current system is broken. Teachers are leaving the profession in droves, their mental health affected and their stress levels high. Instead of being able to do what they signed up to do – teach and inspire young minds – increasingly, a huge proportion of their time is spent box-ticking or managing disruptive behavior in the classroom.

Little wonder there’s a teacher shortage and it’s becoming more and more difficult to attract teacher trainees. Given their existing workloads, what available time do teachers have to learn new technologies themselves so they feel confident deploying them with their students? All too often, teacher-CPD has to take a back seat.

The ultimate question we need to ask ourselves is “who is the customer?” Arguably, it should be the students, but they don’t hold the purse strings. However, they do hold the key to the future success of our economy and our society. Isn’t that enough for us to start talking seriously about how education technology could affect real far-reaching change, if only its shackles were removed? Until then, the future of EdTech can only be as bright as the existing system allows it to be.

Ricky Doyle was commissioned to write this article for startacus.net. The original version can be viewed here.

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