It is reasonable to surmise that, before 2020, if a teacher from the early 20th century arrived in a modern-day classroom, they would be, broadly speaking, able to deliver a lesson in the same manner as their modern-day counterpart: speak from the front, pupils sat in rows, textbooks to guide learning, and so on.
This is not to suggest that education has never innovated or moved forward, of course – it is just that the fundamentals of teaching, unlike, say, surgery, have not changed so radically that a teacher from 100 years in the past would feel out of place in a classroom.
Lord David Puttnam, chair of our education advisory board, recently shared this thought-provoking idea with our education team during a meeting, and he definitely has a point.
A new way of working
But in the past 12 months, we have gone through a rapid technological transformation in education that has shown educators the “art of the possible” when it comes to using technology to enhance teaching and learning.
This means that when we all return to our classrooms, education will have technology at its heart. No longer will a child’s progress be an issue if they cannot physically get to school. In quarantine? In a different country? Snow day? No problem. Just connect to your school’s network and you’re good to go.
Of course, as any educator will tell you, there is much more to using technology in education than joining a Zoom class. Virtual schooling is just one element in the new frontier of education technology, or edtech, as it’s commonly known.
But what is this all about, anyway?
It is definitely not about iPads, wi-fi-enabled whiteboards, and touch-screen TVs.
Instead, it’s about enriching teaching and learning through technology and data so students are more engaged, inspired and able to achieve more than they thought possible.
In turn, tech-enabled education means teachers are more empowered. They are equipped with tools to review and improve classroom performance and, after class, they can level-up their skills through professional development courses online.
In short, it must be teacher-led technology in order to be successful. Made by teachers, for teachers and students.
And judging from what we have seen across our global group of 69 schools and some 14,000 teachers and support staff, it is clear teachers are eager to do just that by collaborating online globally to share lesson ideas and high-quality content with colleagues across all years and subjects.
It’s easy to see why: sharing resources like this means teachers will no longer have to build everything from scratch; they will have a library of content they can draw upon, add to, amend and adapt.
This represents a huge step forward for the profession and for students.
Big data and analytics
Underpinning all of this will be big data and analytics. Teachers will soon be able to use student data – not just end-of-year exam results – to better target their teaching and to personalise learning to the greatest extent possible.
Similarly, students will also be more engaged as tech-enabled content choices will be more attuned to their needs.
The result? Teachers and students spending more one-to-one time at the most valuable moments.
A year ago, this would have sounded like science-fiction, but now we’ve all seen that technology-enabled learning can work and, most importantly, teachers and pupils alike know how to do it.
For example, student views of Global Campus – the online platform where our 67,000 students collaborate and learn together – rose by a staggering 400 per cent in 2020.
While the platform was popular before the pandemic, this way of supporting learning continues to grow even as students return to campus. It’s simply a way of school life for students now.
Meanwhile, on the Nord Anglia University platform, where all manner of teaching resources and professional development courses are housed, we saw a four-fold increase in teachers investing in developing their skills. It’s a trend that continues to rise, too, even with teachers back in classrooms.
We think that, too often, tech-enabled teaching is thought of as a students-only affair. But teachers want and need it for their professional development.
Improved parental engagement
Finally, tech-enabled education will make learning easier on parents. The pandemic brought parents into the classroom in a way they never have been before, giving them a front-row seat in their child’s school life.
Tech-enabled education, including the data that surrounds it and how teachers use it, means parents can spend more time focusing on the most important aspects of their child’s education.
This is because students will be able to work more collaboratively with their peers and teachers online around the world (even in different time zones), and they will increasingly be able to engage with content as much at home as if they were on campus.
This is the future of education: tech-enabled learning, anywhere, anytime.
Let’s embrace it.
Mark Orrow-Whiting is the director of curriculum and student performance at Nord Anglia Education. Prior to this, he was senior national policy adviser at the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, where played a leading role in developments in the English national curriculum. This article was originally published on TES.com on 10 February 2021.