It is a well known fact that the UK’s education budget, for children aged 5 to 19, is chronically underfunded.
As researched by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, between 2009-10 and 2019-20, school spending per pupil in the UK fell by 9% in real terms, a fall that has no doubt impacted the quality of education. (Let us not forget that this budget cut was compounded by the effects of inflation and an increasing student population). Cuts throughout the country have created an educational gap, whereby the quality of education in many fields has fallen dramatically, inequality has widened and skill shortages have been enhanced. Of course this downward trend has not been helped by the announcement of national lockdowns and a global pandemic! However, it’s not all bad news, as this is where the EdTech sector has triumphed.
One field within EdTech that has experienced significant growth is coding. During my time at school, having graduated in 2018, the subject of coding appeared to be an intimidating and foreign concept to almost everyone, including my teachers. Although coding was very briefly touched upon, amounting to possibly one or two hours of teaching throughout my school career, it was a topic that was sadly largely avoided. As a young girl, I failed to realise the doors that a knowledge of coding could have opened. Therefore, I find the growth of coding within schools to be an exciting prospect. Research suggests that coding within K-12 classrooms is crucial in teaching children basic, “competency and computational skills”. It’s implementation into the national curriculum, however, has progressed slowly, with budget cuts limiting resources. Budget cuts have made the recruitment of fully qualified teachers, with specialised coding skills, difficult, henceforth opening up a market for EdTech coding start-ups. Coding tools, software and apps, such as Tynker Junior and Microsoft’s MakeCode, provide teachers with the specialised support, to fill an educational and informational gap within the system.
To some extent, EdTech has made huge progress with regards to making educational tools and information more accessible and usable. By providing formats for digitalised learning, both students and teachers are able to extend their educational opportunities. Not only has the EdTech industry helped to fill specific gaps in learning, it has also improved the general productivity of teachers, often reducing workload. As reported in The Department of Education plans for “Realising the potential of technology in education”, published in 2019, plans were made to reduce teacher workload relating to “marking and analysing”, by at least two hours by 2021. Examples of programmes helping to achieve this goal, included Ada, a virtual assistant that provides support with teaching and assessment. Most importantly, the improved efficiency of the classroom has allowed for more focus on welfare and support, proving highly beneficial to those students less privileged, and helping to reduce inequalities. Concerns however have been raised amongst educators that the benefits of EdTech, in reducing educational inequality, may not extend beyond the classroom.
Since the beginnings of COVID-19 the growth of online tutoring has been exponential, with many concerned parents looking for additional academic support during the pandemic. According to The Guardian, a small portion of the world’s wealthiest even requested live-in tutors at short notice. This explosion within the market has however led many within the education sector to fear for students without such support, or adequate technological access. This is because unfortunately most of us cannot afford such luxuries!
Therefore, EdTech’s next greatest hurdle will be how it is seen to deal with growing educational inequalities outside of the classroom, with an emphasis on engaging all parents in their children’s education. One report by REFORM even suggests that “Tech Expert” schools be linked with institutions struggling to use EdTech to the advantage of underprivileged students. Therefore, even though EdTech has helped to relieve some of the pressures created by budget cuts, there is still a long way to go.