‘How can schools use data and artificial intelligence to broaden education and break down barriers for pupils?’

To paraphrase former US secretary of education Richard Riley, we are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t yet been invented to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet

Preparing students for the future of work is quite a challenge, and one that is facing governments and institutions across the globe as they try to meet the United Nations’ goal of inclusive and quality education for all. It’s clear that to meet this challenge there is a need to explore new approaches to education. At Bett, one of the many themes explored by leading educators is the opportunities presented by education technology or edtech.

New education approaches will be driven by innovative practice, but be supported with relevant technology. They will be required to operate at both an infrastructure and pedagogical level to ensure learners everywhere have the best opportunities. Along the way, their personal data will need to be secured, maintained and transferred safely as they move through an education system and even on into the workplace. The issues range from the basic technology requirements – all schools need fast, stable internet access to unlock their potential – to more complex questions about privacy, big data and even breaking down social and cultural stereotypes.

With widespread internet access in the UK, pupil privacy and online safety is a hot topic. Schools are aware of how exposed data can be online and it’s why many of them shy away from the environment. The imminent General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will introduce a new role of data protection officer to many schools. In the short term, this is likely to come as an added responsibility to staff, many of whom will not be fully prepared. But those schools that encourage data management expertise will be able to use and interpret their data to understand learning trends better, and enable them to address social challenges.

Bett has partnered with Kidzania and Havas to explore the career role-play options selected by 60,000 children at the attraction. The results showed girls were 2,000 per cent more likely to choose a gender stereotypical role. They typically chose an option that was below their age and skill level. Schools sit on rapidly growing data sets; correct use of them has the potential to shape government responses and school-level application of innovation to break down the invisible barriers that are holding children back.

With growing numbers of children in education, the rise of adaptive learning, powered by artificial intelligence, will become increasingly important. Having access to systems that enable teachers to compile lessons at scale, and which run at the pace of each student account for personal growth and provide detailed analytics to show not just results but the effort being input by the students, will be transformative. It will free up teachers’ time to focus on one-to-one sessions with those who are struggling and accurately track progress. In time it could allow employers to see how new employees like to learn and create learning environments that meet the UN’s global goal for education.

Today’s eight year olds, the alpha generation, are well versed in digital content consumption and creation, drawing on tablets and mobile devices, making videos, taking pictures and gaming. Edtech is second nature to them. But, through the growth in the children’s book market, we can also see they still love the physical act of turning paper pages. What’s clear is they expect to see all these approaches within their learning environments and, more importantly, they expect to continue to create in those formats as they progress.

The most forward-looking schools have embraced flipped, project-based and problem-solving learning approaches as part of their teaching and have a one-device-per-person policy. They are teaching coding, robotics and other STEAM-related activities [science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics] to foster a passion in both boys and girls. They are meeting the needs of the emerging technologies and those jobs that haven’t yet been invented.

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