Lessons from lockdown - closing the digital divide

Our Trust approach to edtech reflects our preoccupation with teacher expertise and our commitment to simplicity in lessons. But a global pandemic has shown us that there always remains more to do.

Across The Midland Academies Trust, we have a common classroom template for edtech – a large screen and visualiser in every teaching room. This reflects our approach to curriculum delivery – taught from the front by expert professionals. Our staff use this technology to live model application, critique responses and showcase pupil mastery. We’re now looking at extending that template to incorporate podiums, so our staff can continue to face the class and teach whilst using technology.So our classroom model is well in hand. But the outbreak of Covid 19 has made us review our plans and strategy for remote and hybrid learning, so we can continue to provide high-quality learning for all pupils and meet the new challenges of life post-Covid.

When schools in England closed in March, we already had a good range of cloud and web-based learning platforms. But we wanted to do more, and crucially, we wanted to be able to do it together. Our staff, supported by our technical teams, responded to the challenge magnificently. All online learning now originates in Microsoft Teams for Education and our pupils are becoming skilled in using this resource. It’s clear that this approach will have a long-term place in our Trust curriculum delivery model and that is a very exciting prospect.

However it also brought into sharp focus the ‘digital divide’ our pupils experience out of school, as well as their own limitations and learning needs. It is easy to imagine that all teenagers are ‘digital natives’ – unlike me, they grew up with the internet as part of their lives. And of course, teenagers and mobile phones are often frustratingly inseparable. But pupils consuming social media on a phone and accessing our full curriculum on an appropriate device are two very different things. And this translates into their homes.

Around 40% of our pupils started out with uncontested use of an appropriate device. We of course accessed government remote learning funding and used our own resources to add to this, prioritising sensibly to make the biggest impact we could. But these are sobering figures and indicative of a sector-wide issue that cannot be solved overnight.

A recent report by Microsoft and The Centre for Education and Youth showed that the state education sector is starting from scratch when it comes to being able to provide the devices and experiences our pupils need. We’ve made a start in our Trust – reviewing and rewriting our Trust digital strategy and looking at our curriculum to see where we can help pupils in building and consolidating the skills they will need online and remotely. But there is much still to do.

We are all hopeful that this pandemic now has an end in sight. But as the memories of life in lockdown fade we cannot lose sight of what it has shown us. It may be a digital divide, but for our pupils it is a very real one.