An open letter to the Secretary of State for Education
I am writing to support your ambition to introduce more rigour into the teaching and learning of our young people. As we move further into the 21st century it is growing ever clearer that technology can play a crucial role in raising standards.
Our new report, System Upgrade: Realising the Vision for UK Education, draws together the findings of the five-year £12m Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme. It argues that learning can be radically transformed for the better by the careful design and deployment of technologies and draws on hard empirical evidence to show how.
Increasingly, children use technology in their out of school lives, not just to socialise but to learn. The same technologies enable us to gain insights into what actually helps them learn. Researchers now “data mine” the records of thousands of students’ interactions with technology-enhanced learning systems. Data-mining is revealing which curriculum components pull their weight in terms of learning outcomes, very difficult information to collect in traditional ways. An educational game such as Zombie Division doesn’t just help children improve their maths skills. It also logs their performance in order to provide teachers with valuable information about what division problems a particular child finds difficult or easy.
We know that we can build software that exploits the power of personal devices, that catches the wave of social networks to share ideas and foster teamwork – a skill that is not only demanded by industry but that will be assessed in the next PISA exercise.
We can use technology to understand better how people learn; to assess what matters rather than what is easy to assess; to help pupils bring their learning of, say, mathematics into the real world and apply it – another work place-friendly skill. We can use the latest techniques of artificial intelligence to help children with special needs and we can enhance teachers’ productivity by doing more for less – both time and money.
How to achieve this? Well, investment would help. But above all, we believe our findings are essential to the debate, to help raise the level of discussion beyond “pro” and “anti” technology lobbies. Our aims are the same as yours: to make learning more rigorous and, thanks to technology, more accessible to all.
Finally, few would take issue with your desire for young children to learn a language. But the discussion seems limited to whether it should be French, Spanish or Mandarin. What about the language of computers? The advent of a new wave of cheap tools (Raspberry Pi, Arduino) means children can explore the building blocks of technology from an early age. It is possible that a generation of UK children could become fluent in coding – the language that increasingly underlies our world?
Professor Richard Noss
Director: Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme
London Knowledge Lab
Emerald Street London WCIN