Way back in Victorian times, when the concept of children going to school on a regular basis was just beginning, every child was given the use of a slate and chalk at school in order to learn to write. Of course, that was a long time ago and you may think that education has moved on hugely since then but maybe not so much. Replace the slate with paper and the chalk with a biro and not much has actually changed, despite the massive changes in the last 100+ years, schools have continued with a largely Victorian method of teaching. So what do parents want to know about how technology can help their child learn?
We know a great deal more these days about how people learn and this shows that far from all pupils responding to the teacher that stands at the front of the class, many will need a very different type of teaching in order to learn at the same pace or at all. In addition to this some will have other challenges to overcome such as dyslexia.
The use of technology as an integral part of learning, particularly when it is as part of a 1:1 programme (where every child has their own device to use in class and at home) addresses many of these different needs and challenges while also allowing every child, no matter what their circumstances, to have the same chance to achieve their full potential.
There are a number of important questions that parents will ask. In the 15 years+ that we have been helping schools we feel confident that we can not only anticipate them but also provide you with some answers. So, here are what we think are likely to be some of the main questions you might want answers to…
I’m worried about online safety
It is quite understandable for many parents to worry about online safety. There has been a fair amount of press covering online bullying, grooming and access to inappropriate material. These are all areas that we cover when we are helping schools plan their programme but it is also important to remember that this is not just the responsibility of the school - parents and the child themselves all have an important part to play.
When the device is given out we propose that, as a school, you ask the parents and the child to sign a Home/School agreement that sets out clearly what the responsibilities are for each party, with regards to looking after it and using it appropriately. This alone will not of course prevent anything happening but it does make it clear what action will be taken and by who.
The Foundation also has a comprehensive guide and advice for parents which we will continue to add to.
I’m worried about the time they will spend on the computer
This is another area where there is real concern and where the popular press can sometimes focus on the negative rather than the positive effects of "screen time". Within a school structure this will be managed by the teachers and the school in the same way anything is managed, with views being sought from experts as well as from parents and their children. Most schools will implement an ‘acceptable use’ policy, setting out guidelines and in order to encourage responsible use of the device at school to minimise potential disruption.
Outside of homework or school coursework use of the device at home is really a normal parental discipline issue as with anything else such as viewing age appropriate TV programmes.
Do also look at our blog on the subject which coincided with the launch of a report from research in this area by London School of Economics.
I’m worried about the loss of reading & writing skills
It is natural to fear that the computer will replace handwriting skills but we have never yet met a school where they didn’t continue to recognise the importance of handwriting and reading books. They are always committed to making sure these core skills remain an important part of teaching and the curriculum. Computer devices are, after all just tools, in the same way as calculators.
We have a computer already do they really need another?
We understand that parents may feel it is unreasonable to contribute to another device when there is already one available at home for their child to use. But a 1:1 programme is not just about the device; the programme is designed to include a device with specific attributes. It will also include pre-loaded software that allows it to communicate with the school as well as security and safety controls. The scheme is also about enabling all children in a given cohort to have the same device, in that way all children will benefit.
Some schools run, what are commonly called, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schemes. This is where children with existing devices can bring their own. BYOD can be a cheaper funding model for schools than bulk-buying, but can have issues that lessen the learning benefits:
- BYOD can make income disparities more obvious. Existing income disparities can result in different learning outcomes since some parents can only afford devices with limited functionality. Students might not be willing to share work if they have an old tablet, or one with a less engaging interface
- Schools will need to put a combination of firewalls, anti-virus programs, and non-network measures in place to cope with the range of machines and interfaces
- Schools will need to pre-approve a list of devices to access the network and there will need to be some similarity between them such as how long a device takes to start up as well us upload or download content. Screen sizes are important too so all students in a class are looking at the same content at the same time
- Existing use policies and agreements need to be added and adapted by the school in order to take account of a wider variety of devices
Do we have to contribute?
In order for the school to launch a 1:1 programme they need to make a significant investment in heavy duty Broadband and WiFi as well as making sure the staff are trained on how best to use the technology.
An approved Learning Foundation programme will be designed to ensure that every child has the same technology and to achieve this parents will be asked to make a regular DONATION to the programme. The school will suggest a figure they feel is affordable for the majority of parents whilst also broadly reflecting the cost of the device, case, insurance, warranty and any initial software spread over the period of the programme (usually two or three years). This is a voluntary contribution and as such you have the right to contribute less or nothing if your circumstances prevent you making the full recommended figure.
That said, the success and sustainability of the programme relies on the majority of families contributing the suggested amount. The school will have made an allowance for a certain number of families that might be unable to contribute but if more than this number decide to reduce their contribution then it is very likely the programme will fail and every child will lose out.
Always remember, you are not paying for a device but donating voluntarily, to the school’s technology enhanced learning programme, which involves significant investment by the school, over and above the cost of the devices.
We don’t have internet access at home
Your school has or will conduct a survey to establish how many families do not have Internet access at home. Once the school is aware of your situation we hope they will be looking at one of a number of ways that they can help you. If you don’t hear from the school we recommend that you contact them to see how they might help.
I'm worried that the technology is a distraction from learning
In the past schools may have used computers that took a long time to start up and a lot of lesson time was wasted while every child is getting to the same point and is ready to start. Modern devices, particularly tablets, and Chromebooks open far quicker and are ready for use in seconds.
The downside of quick and easy access is the temptation to dip in and play but teachers are all too aware of this and a good programme will have established procedures and trained their teaching staff to ensure that the devices are only used when they are required and at other times they are put to one side to remove the distraction opportunity.
It is surprising how quickly the novelty of the device will wear off as it becomes just another learning tool.
Will this device allow me to see how he is doing at school?
This depends on how the device is being used, however it can be simple for the school to allow access from any computer to their child’s homework or for the teacher to communicate directly with the parent through this technology. This is a great question to ask of the school and see what plans they have for helping you to support your child's learning - it is fundamental to success.
Will it help me be more involved with the school?
Most schools will want to help the parents make use of this technology to help their child at home, often schools will explain how to be more involved in monitoring time spent and ensuring internet safety by restricting access etc.