Schools need cash to replace crumbling tech infrastructure, MPs told

Schools in England forced to use eight-year-old computers need a one-off capital cash injection to “level the playing field”, education technology experts have told MPs.

The parliamentary education committee heard from representatives of technology companies during a hearing this morning into the impact of the fourth industrial revolution. It was part of the same inquiry that saw a robot named Pepper give evidence to MPs last October.

Today’s hearing examined how technology works in English classrooms, and MPs heard concerns that the country is being left behind when it comes to ed tech.

It follows calls from the education secretary Damian Hinds for education technology companies to create new solutions to support teaching.

However, Martin Hamilton, a futurist at Jisc, told MPs that although a government scheme that has seen fibre broadband rolled out to poorly-served schools in rural areas has been a “real success story”, many schools don’t have the equipment to use the latest software.

“The problem is when you get into the building, and we see from BESA, the British Educational Suppliers Association, they do an annual survey, two thirds of secondaries and two fifths of primaries say ‘we have inadequate infrastructure’.

“We hear about eight-year-old PCs, I heard on social media last night from a college which is using 10-year-old PCs. So there’s a lot that we could do even just with a one-off capital injection to say let’s get everyone on a level playing field.”

Such investment would pay for things like installing wireless access points and replacing old computers, and “would go a long way” to creating innovation.

Priya Lakhani, the founder and chief executive of CENTURY Tech, warned that without input from schools, “artificial intelligence has the ability to create social mobility issues”.

“So you’ll have, potentially, some of the wealthier children, the more advantaged children using all those great applications that teach them more about their choices, their preferences, the news they want to read, etc.

“And you potentially have children who are disadvantaged not reaping all the benefits, and so that’s why it’s important that, for example the educational institutions can try and teach children about these particular applications, about AI, about the impact of AI.”

Lakhani also warned that tech companies find it “very very difficult” to engage with England’s “fragmented” school system, and said her firm did more business in the Middle East, Africa and US in 14 days than it did in five years in the UK.

She said a “coherent response” from the Department for Education to the rise of ed tech was needed, with headteachers more likely to be on top of the issue than government officials.

“School leaders actually talk about it more than [the] DfE do,” she admitted.

She also called for a review of how pupils are tested in schools, warning that teachers “will always drive their students, because that’s how they’re measured, to those tests”.

Schools do not test for adaptability, creativity, learning agility or empathy, Lakhani warned, adding that the current regime also failed to address “all the issues social media is creating”.

“There’s no conversation about a wholesome education, an enriching education. It’s just nonsense, what I see in terms of the curriculum. So much pressure on teachers to deliver something that no employer is going to say ‘thankyou very much’ [for].”