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News 21 January 2015 (CRN UK)

Billions of pounds wasted on schools technology

Education IT leaders agree that sales have not led to hoped-for success

By Fleur Doidge

Worldwide sales of education IT have largely been a waste of billions of pounds, according to a succession of speakers at the Bett 2015 education tech show.

Rob Mancabelli, chief executive at US research firm Brightbytes, told an audience of teachers and school-based professionals from around the world today at Bett that although lots of money has been spent on IT in education institutions in recent years, most has not resulted in improved learning outcomes.

"A huge amount of time and money has been spent in education, but with widely differing results," he said. "What has happened in countries that I've visited is billions and billions has been spent but there has been very little change in teaching and learning in those countries."

Mancabelli maintained, however, that "it doesn't have to be like that" – suggesting that problem areas could yet be addressed so that schools and pupils did achieve the hoped-for improvements.

Technology providers such as resellers obviously have a role to play here, especially by adopting a consultative, solutions-led approach that looks at what is actually needed first and how to achieve that, only looking at the actual technologies that could be sold to the customer second.

Mancabelli said that what was occurring is that 21st century technology was being bought and deployed, but tended to be simply used to assist "20th century" learning and teaching practices. An example might be simply digitising projection imagery and using PowerPoint instead to give presentations.

A ground-up approach to innovation was needed in learning, rather than simply overlaying the old ways with new technology, he said.

"We have been trying to fill this digital divide with Chromebooks and apps and learning information systems and learning management systems, and we have been hoping that teachers are going to walk on all that stuff from the 20th century to the 21st century," Mancabelli noted. "But in this case if you [just] build it, they will not come."

Anthony Salcito, vice president of worldwide education sales at Microsoft, agreed.

"There are many, many computers and tablets, et cetera, in schools and classrooms and all they are doing, often, is automating the past learning models," he said.

Change is needed, and is going to require a "fundamentally different approach". Salcito said that pedagogy should indeed come first, rather than simple access to technology or connectivity.

He had heard far too many school leaders say they wanted their legacy to be based on delivering a device to every child, or every classroom or similar -- but that approach was quite mistaken as it had already been proven to fail. Without help adopting the technology and changing classrooms in ways that truly benefit learning, a "colossal" investment was too often wasted.

Often, Brightbytes' Mancabelli noted, students themselves were beginning to learn more outside the classroom, but scared to include their teachers in that process. An example might be students from different schools meeting up on Facebook and helping each other with their maths homework.

"She said to me: 'Now I actually know the maths. But please don't tell my teacher.' And they can feel it is cheating," he said.


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