March 29, 2023

Education – A Competitive Industry

Education has become a very competitive industry to operate in, particularly in the independent sector. Traditionally a very slow industry to respond and adapt to the changing demands in the marketplace, schools are now under more pressure to establish and sustain their competitive edge, as parents and their children shop around to research what is on offer and how that will meet their expectations. Not only is the core business of learning and teaching (and of course assessment and results) under the microscope, but also co-curricular offerings, student wellbeing and the calibre of leadership.

Innovation and creativity have become such driving forces in all industries and education is certainly no exception. We now see this reflected in position statements in the recruitment of key staff in schools; job titles including key words such as technology, innovation, creativity, discovery, visioning -just as we have seen People and Culture replace the traditional Human Resources title, in the endeavor to place more emphasis on the values and integrity of the organization. This all indicative now of how schools are evolving to meet the challenges also faced by other industries in the marketplace.

So, what role has technology played in all of this? Well, as has always been the case, technology is a tool. For those who can cast their minds back to the early days of their teaching career 40+ years ago to earlier technology-you will remember the Gestetner machine, designed to duplicate worksheets and cover you in purple until thankfully, the photocopier took over. Or the overhead projector that predated computer-based projection. What about liquid paper for correction until word processing? We have evolved from gestetnering to googling!

As a tool for learning in the 21st century, the impact of technology is indisputable. Technology has facilitated the shift from content driven curriculum to skills-based learning, from teacher-based instruction to student-centred learning. Technology in education is transformative and has enabled:

  • Access to global, real-time information
  • On-line, self-paced, personalised learning
  • Continuous upskilling through online learning
  • Accommodation of learning styles
  • Facilitation of learning difficulties and disabilities
  • Data analytics
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Flipping to remote learning
  • Feedback mechanisms
  • Enhanced productivity and efficiency
  • Foundation skills for digital transformation in the workplace
  • Learning not bound by time or place
  • Implementation of learning, data, compliance and risk management systems

The list goes on!   However, there is one important caveat. In the learning environment, the role of a teacher who can create and facilitate relevant, engaging and challenging learning experiences will never be replaced by technology. So much of what happens in the learning process is relational between the teacher and the student and a teacher who engages and inspires their students will be the one who ultimately has the greatest impact on their learning and the one who will be remembered for doing so, long after the school days are over.

All teachers know that in structuring their lesson, a variety of strategies need to be employed. Just as note-taking or silent reading for a whole lesson would be mind-numbing for students, so too, is death by PowerPoint. So, embedding technology into the lesson still requires a skilled practitioner to create those relevant, engaging and challenging learning experiences. Providing the device without the requisite training for teachers and students alike, will not end happily. It will become a tick-box exercise for teachers and students will very quickly figure out which teachers are adept at being creative and innovative in embedding technology in their lessons.

A final point on the role of the teacher in this age of digital transformation in learning and teaching. Note that the language has shifted from teaching and learning to learning and teaching. Even with all the tech tools to create the most whizz-bang lesson, do the students really understand the purpose or point of the lesson? Students generally have no problem articulating what they have been learning and can probably be clear on how they have been learning but can they articulate why they have been learning what they have? A very interesting question to explore with students, to determine their depth of understanding and hence relevance of what they are learning. If the answer is because there is an assessment next week, then unfortunately an opportunity has been missed. A teacher can teach the students but that does not guarantee that the students have actually learned anything at all, no matter how sophisticated the technology or tech savvy the teacher is. Young children are forever asking why? That is because they are curious and that is their way of trying to understand and make sense out of new experiences. Harnessing that curiosity to instill the critical thinking approach to problem solving is where technology is an enabler.

So yes, technology has transformed the learning process, when facilitated by a teacher who delivers relevant, engaging and challenging experiences to their students and where the students can clearly articulate not only what and how they have been learning but more importantly, why?