At the end of January, Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi announced the creation of a new DfE panel that aims to support the development of early learning skills, including (but not limited to) digital literacy.
Consisting of eight educational experts with individual specialisms, Zahawi says the panel’s work will particularly help parents “who lack confidence with supporting their young children’s early learning at home”.
Is the DfE sharpening its tech focus?
Although digital literacy is not the sole focus of the panel, it’s clear that the government sees this a key area for improvement, especially considering who the panel’s two leaders are.
The panel’s Chair is Professor Jackie Marsh (Professor of Education at Sheffield University), whose research is focused on digital literacy practices, while Deputy Chair, Olivia Dickinson, is – a digital consultant with more than 15 years’ experience in educational digital media, having worked with organisations such as the BBC and Discovery Education.
The remaining panel members are a mixture of two academics, two directors of tech companies and two charity-sector leaders – most of whom also have some sort of digital focus or specialism.
All of this suggests that digital literacy is now being treated as an essential skill, rather than a nice-to-have, for young learners.
Will this new panel help teachers?
The DfE has not appointed any serving teachers to the panel, which has been met with criticism.
Only one of its eight members is listed as having served as a teacher in the past: Sandra Mathers, now a Senior Researcher at Oxford University and a specialist in child learning and development, previously taught at primary level and holds a PGCE in Primary Education.
The big concern here, among serving educators, is that the panel will not have a truly practical perspective on what works in the modern classroom and what will support learning outside the classroom. It’s a compelling argument: surely, those who are out there using this technology ‘in the field’ day in and day out are among the best placed to advise on it?
What about better collaboration between educators and parents?
However, the panel does clearly recognise the importance of educators and parents working more closely together to provide the best learning experience for children. The more informed parents are about educational technology, the better equipped they’ll be to encourage and steer their children’s extracurricular learning. This is crucial to the development of all pupils, but particularly those who need extra help in achieving their goals.
The rise of educational technology in UK schools
The use of educational technology (“edtech”) in the classroom is increasing, proving to be far from a gimmicky fad. Promethean’s most recent State of Technology in Education report found that 94% of teachers see edtech as an effective way to better engage their pupils, while 53% believe that it is now an essential part of education. This is further backed up by school IT managers – 92% of whom expect to see educational technology take centre stage in the classroom over the next 10 years.
But there are still some sceptics to win over here: 7% think that the use of edtech will start to decline in the next few years, rather than grow. On the other side of the argument, however, are the 79% who think that edtech will combine with traditional educational resources to become the standard way of teaching lessons.
Bringing technology into the classroom increases engagement and leads to higher attainment as a result – catering for all types of learners. For the new DfE panel to be effective, it will need to ensure that teachers are able to influence and advise parents in the use of technology at home as well, because no child’s learning should be limited to the school environment.