Mark Whitefield, director of school sales, Stone Group

Selling IT to schools: Let’s get digital!

The events of the past twelve months have significantly accelerated technology adoption for many schools and opened up new approaches to teaching and learning. But what has this abrupt shift to digital learning taught us and how can schools make the most of their IT budgets moving forward? Mark Whitefield, director of school sales, Stone Group explores.

The pandemic has firmly placed the spotlight on the huge disparity in how schools use technology for teaching. While some schools rose to the challenge and were able to deliver full live lessons to their pupils, others were limited to setting online work challenges created by third party providers; sharing PowerPoint presentations or worksheets online; or even in some cases posting out manual learning packs to pupils’ homes. Even before the pandemic hit, we’ve seen first-hand the vast differences in how technology is used in schools. Some are able to offer handheld devices to each student during lessons and fully embrace the use of technology to help bring ideas to life for pupils using 3D and data visualisation tools. They also realise the importance of these tools to help spark creativity, encourage collaboration and problem solving with immersive engaging apps, and to enhance independent learning for students of all abilities. However, we still see plenty of schools where the ‘fixed’ ICT suite of desktop computers is still very much the norm, with two or three pupils huddled around the monitor.

The pandemic also brought to life the digital inequality facing families throughout the UK. It was estimated that one million children and their families still don’t have adequate access to mobile devices or connectivity at home. As a result, many young people struggled to complete work set by their teachers while schools were closed putting them at a distinct disadvantage to their peers who had a device and access to broadband.

We work with schools who operate a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative where each student has their own device connected to the school’s online platform. We’re also seeing growing interest from schools and academy trusts keen to start their own 1:1 programme, either buying devices to distribute to students or asking parents to contribute. Our GetYourTech4Schools programme enables parents to buy devices for their child with easy to manage payment options, spread over time. I suspect over the next two-three years we’ll see almost every student have their own device for learning and it’s likely that this will become imperative as schools face ongoing uncertainty and the possibility of having to send pupils home to isolate. The creation of hybrid learning environments has become the most viable option for delivering uninterrupted education and access to devices for home learning is key to this.

As young people spend more time online, it raises another challenge for schools as their pupils become increasingly exposed to the risk of cyberbullying. Reports suggest that almost one in five children experienced bullying online last year, with the situation worsening during lockdown as they spent increasing amounts of time online.

Ongoing training is needed to help to teachers navigate this increased exposure to bullying in virtual environments. Aside from imposing strict code of conduct guidelines, schools should also be monitoring for good online behaviours during interactions with their pupils. Schools can also take advantage of software such as Impero or Senso, which enables a safe and productive digital learning environment for pupils by monitoring their online activity. The software helps identify online bullying, the viewing of adult content or radicalisation and enables teachers or IT administrators to report on any concerning behaviours and take control of what users can or can’t access.

Limited IT budgets
As schools look to evaluate their future tech needs, one challenge that remains a constant for schools is stretching their IT budgets as far as they can. We’re now seeing many more IT managers and head teachers look to refurbished devices as a cost-effective alternative to buying new models. Refurbished devices enable schools to stretch their funds much further as they are more cost effective than the cost of new devices. They also typically come with lengthy warranties and are the ideal choice for schools looking to make more sustainable buying decisions.

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