Solutions: Three ways to bridge the digital divide

Every school and every pupil can keep pace with rapid technological progress regardless of their finances or starting points, explains Carrie Anne Philbin

Every school and every pupil can keep pace with rapid technological progress regardless of their finances or starting points, explains Carrie Anne Philbin

21 Nov 2023, 5:00

The pace of technological revolution has been increasing exponentially in recent years. The effect this is having on the parity of education our young people receive is already palpable. Many are being left behind by this digital transformation.

Nominet’s 2022 Digital Youth Index found that one-quarter of young people do not have access to a laptop. According to Ofcom, three per cent of homes with children still do not have access to the internet.

In the face of such structural challenges, educators are faced with difficult questions as to how they can support their students to develop vital digital skills. However, some steps can ensure all students access an enriching, forward-facing education while empowering teaching staff to be digital leaders in their own rights.

Avoid tech for tech’s sake

Given the increasing importance accorded to technology and digital skills, pressure can mount to pour resources into acquiring the latest and “best” tech resources. Being intentional with your use of technology is crucial; more is not necessarily better.

Costs can ramp up quickly, not just in terms of the investment into hardware assets but also when considering purchasing and renewing software licenses. Staying mindful of the purpose behind integrating digital skills into the curriculum is key to ensuring precious time and resources are not wasted.

Equally, it is critical to remain mindful of what staff are being asked to use. Teacher workloads are precariously stacked at best. Asking them to use more technology isn’t necessarily the magic bullet in delivering much-needed relief from this burden.

Where technology is being integrated in schools, effective training and continuous professional development (CPD) is absolutely crucial. Investing time into initial on-boarding for any device or edtech programme will go a long way towards ensuring parity of experience between classrooms, while supporting the career development of staff and boosting their confidence. Often, edtech providers offer comprehensive training information packs, walk-throughs and even live workshops to support teachers in rolling their service out and getting the most from it.

Make the most of free resources

There is a treasure trove of support available for free. However, these free resources can be challenging to find. They may not be promoted as heavily as paid-for equivalents, and lack of expertise can make it hard to assess their quality.

By and large, the best quick fix is to rely on reputable charities, organisations and educational bodies. However, the better solution is to tap into a network of colleagues who can elicit invaluable recommendations and testimonies.

Networks – whether through trust relationships, local authority partnerships, or other similar structures – can be a great way to share more than teaching materials too. Technology is extremely scalable, and by sharing physical resources through computing hubs or bulk-buying software licenses, learning communities can reduce the burden of cost while providing their pupils with up-to-date hardware and software. Community spaces such as libraries and digital hubs are also vastly underappreciated resources, offering internet access, shared devices and support from knowledgeable experts.

Embed digital across the curriculum

Preparing children for a technologically driven future is about so much more than delivering the statutory requirements for computing lessons. But working out how to apply and use technologies in various subjects involves imagination, creative thinking and the freedom to think outside the box.

Thinking creatively about how digital skills are incorporated into a school’s curriculum can yield numerous benefits and can boost pastoral provision just as well as subject teaching. Pupils can code, for example, as a way to express how they feel or build how emotions might look, bringing a fun, creative element to emotional self-regulation as well as teaching early game development.

Using edtech in this way creates important opportunities to make cross-curricular links. More importantly, it can ensure students have positive perceptions about their own potential to have tech-based careers.

We’ve come a long way towards tackling the digital divide since the pandemic, but there’s a way to go. The speed of change can make the task daunting, but thoughtful, well-supported and creative implementation can ensure every school and every pupil keeps pace.

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