Back to school

When Rob Horgan was nine years old, Windows 1998 had just been released. To find out what technology the nine year olds of today use, he ventured back into the classroom.

‘What does technology mean?’

Within two minutes of handing out my perfectly crafted survey, nine-year-old Max revealed all I needed to know about technology in education in 2017. It turns out that kids are so acclimatised to tech – at home, school and everywhere in between – that they don’t even recognise when they are using it.

The follow up question, from classmate Ciara, revealed even more. “Do you mean technology as in iPads, or technology as in apps and programmes?” Without knowing the terms for it, children as young as eight and nine now recognise the difference between hardware and software (as well as being able to highlight the flaws in the wording of my questions). Comparing the difference between now and my days at primary school – when I was happy just to make it through the once-a-week ICT lesson without the computer crashing – and it is clear to see which direction schooling is taking. The use of technology is no longer limited to the computer lab, with iPads and educational apps opening up an ever-growing gateway for technology to infiltrate the classroom. Most schools now teach youngsters how to code and some even have robotics clubs where kids as young as five or six can get their hands on drones.

As Alex Waite, year four teacher at Christchurch Primary School in Shooters Hill, Greenwich, explains: “We use iPads for all subjects now. There is an app designed for everything from maths to literacy, art and music now to assist teachers’ lessons and improve children’s learning experience.” 

“Even in the short time that I have been a teacher [four years], the classroom has changed quite a lot. When I first started, iPads were not really present in most schools. Even two years ago, we had just seven iPads to share between a class of 30. Now we have one between two, and I’m sure over time – if the budget allows for it – every child will have access to their own iPad in class.” 

And the introduction of the iPad in class has completely changed how lessons are conducted from the perspective of both teachers and pupils. During my afternoon visit, the year four class took part in a music lesson. Taught by their regular teacher Mr Waite, there was not an instrument in sight. Instead, the two iPad monitors (yes, that’s a thing now) dished out the tablets for the afternoon’s lesson. In place of drums and guitars, GarageBand allowed for all the youngsters to make music in a much more manageable environment. 

Not only did the class not need to ask how to use the iPads, nobody asked how to use Garage Band, despite it being the first time they had been introduced to it in class. While some admitted to using it at home, for the majority of them it was the first time that they had been exposed to the programme and they all managed to record at least 20 seconds of music without a demonstration of how to use the software. This is, from what I could see, where technology has really revolutionised the classroom. 

And the kids are seemingly happy about that. Of the 29 children in the class, 22 said they wanted to see more technology at school. More tellingly, all 29 identified the iPad among the top four most used items of technology at school (the smartboard, computer and laptop all identified by more than 20 of the class). And 15 of the 29 youngsters picked the iPad as their favourite piece of technology at school. 

“Two years ago, we had just seven iPads to share between a class of 30. Now we have one between two.” 
Alex Waite, Christchurch Primary School

As nine-year-old James, says: “iPads are very useful in school as you can do pretty much anything on them and they are fun to use. While books are good for finding information it is much quicker and easier to find the answers using technology.” 

The balance between using tech as an educational tool and using it is as an incentive is key as Waite explains: “I try to use the iPad sparingly so that the kids see it as some form of reward for doing their other work. They will still be using the iPad’s apps to learn from but to them it seems like fun. It is important to keep it as a different format for them to learn.” 

He continues: “As much as it is important to let kids run wild on iPads and make the most of app-based products, it is still important to train them on the old productivity programmes that we were brought up on when we were at school. Kids are often going straight to iPads and risk not gaining the core skills that programmes such as Word and Excel provide. Finding a balance is important.”

Nobody can deny that the use of technology in school has transformed the role of the teacher. But how do the teachers feel about it and are they given enough time and training to learn all about how to use their new digital teaching assistants? 

“Sometimes I find that the kids are more clued up than me and show me certain things on the iPads,” Waite admits. “There are often times when the iPads will break and the kids will know what to do because they have seen the same problem at home.” 

He adds: “There is an increasing amount of training for teachers using technology in their lessons. There are now regular demonstrations on computing and computing training, put on internally and externally. The thinking is to have more promotion of technology in school to keep up with how technology is growing in the working world and at home as well. 

“Most primary schools will now have an IT expert who work closely with the kids and just as importantly, they work to keep the teachers informed on the latest technology. We have recently had training on drones and how to use them in subjects such as maths, by plotting co-ordinates.”

PCR’s Sector Spotlight on Education – in association with Westcoast – is running throughout August 2017 – click here for more articles

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