With more and more businesses adopting digital ways of working and undergoing digital transformation, it truly is shaping the future of the job market. Digital literacy (and more) is an increasingly demanded skill amongst the workforce and many offices are opting to go paperless, adopt new digital ecosystems and break down geographic boundaries with the use of technology. So, we’re asking the question, should schools be beating future employers to the punch and creating a fully digital environment in their classrooms? Should they be investing in upskilling our youth for an inevitably digital future?

With brands like Microsoft, Google and Apple working their way into school systems across the globe, it’s looking like a yes. Apple most recently extended their ‘Everyone can code’ course, which has been integrated into some schools across the UK and Europe. They are also aiming to bring out a cheaper version of their iPad, which is targeted at schools and for use within them. Microsoft have multiple programmes aimed at students and teachers to bring technology into the classroom and Google have awarded grants to Raspberry Pi. They also support a wide variety of coding programmes, all of which offer free teacher training on their products. It’s no surprise that people are wondering the same as us.

should schools go digital?

“More than 11 million people in the UK do not have basic digital skills. One out of every 11 completely avoids the internet.”
- Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index, 2017

Digital natives

Of course, today’s children are, by in large, more than familiar with technology, computers and social media. They are commonly referred to as ‘digital natives’, however this doesn’t mean they possess the skills required to make it in a digital based jobs market. In fact, Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, has said that schools need to prepare young people for a digital revolution and a fast-changing jobs market, going on to say that young people would need to be able to ‘write apps’ as well as use them.

This isn’t purely raising future workers who are able to build apps and code, instead it is about creating a familiarity with digital working. From job search through application to the everyday workplace, digital has become integral to almost every step of the recruitment and work journey. Even signing up for benefit support when you are unable to find work requires basic computer literacy and an email address (an issue all in itself and a conversation for another day).

As time goes on it’s becoming clear that digital is set to be intertwined with modern working, hence why we offer digital transformation as a service to our clients, and the burning question is how can we make classrooms themselves more digital? Is there the potential to take the fundamentals of digital transformation and apply them to schools in order to have students working paperlessly for the majority, if not all, lessons and subjects?

Digital sector growth

In a recent Tech City report (2017), it was reported that; “today more than 1.5 million people are already working within the digital sector, or in digital tech roles across other sectors, while the number of digital tech jobs across the UK has grown at more than twice the rate of non-digital tech sectors.

This highlights the scale of the digital opportunity from a career perspective. But, there are many more positives to equipping our younger generations with the digital knowledge they need.

The benefits

Of course, as a company who work entirely digitally, we may be a little biased on the benefits of working this way! However, in contexts where digital is a possibility, there are key benefits that we have identified for schools undergoing digital transformation. 

  • Bringing learning into the digital age - there’s no denying that we are living in the digital age: reading, connecting with friends and keeping track of events, fitness, diet and shopping are all things than can be done online and from our phones, so why are Universities and, more importantly, schools still lagging behind? Getting schools to go digital would bring a new element to learning. With everything available in the cloud, it offers a more collaborative style of working for students and teachers alike. Working on group projects could be done together in class and then remotely when students are at home during homework hours. There’s also the added perk that teachers will no longer encounter any ‘my dog ate my homework’ excuses - well we’d hope not anyway!
  • Cut down costs - schools have a notorious lack of funding. With the schools budget in England being slashed by £2.8bn since 2015 (an average of £53,000 and £178,000 for each primary and secondary school respectively) around 94% of teachers admit to having to buy supplies for their classroom, from essential books to basic supplies like paper. Whilst going ‘digital’ requires an initial investment, this has well established longer term cost saving benefits. Having everything online and easy to access would mean no printing costs, with no physical copies to make or books to purchase this could significantly help to reduce school costs. All that would be needed is one digital copy of their book, daily work or lesson to be sent out to students when required.
  • Less waste and wasted time - It is estimated that the average secondary school pupil produces 22kg of waste each year and for a primary school pupil this is double, reaching 45kg. Most of this waste comes from paper and card and teachers spend hours carrying around and rifling through typed and printed essays, homework and marking. Having them accessible from a laptop would save on printing time, cost and waste but also make it easier for teachers to access and keep track of their pupil’s work. Distribution of work would be easier, meaning less printing, stapling and dishing out; and more links to students and saving paper.
should schools go digital?

“Digital literacy should be the fourth pillar of a child’s education alongside reading, writing and mathematics and be resourced and taught accordingly.”

- House of Lords Report, 2017

The pushback

Of course, in an ideal world, the digital transformation of schools would be easily achievable. However, with financial drawbacks and the likelihood of reluctant parties, it may not be something that is around the corner.

A key drawback is likely to be the mixture of backgrounds and income levels in public schools. With some children potentially being unable to own their own laptop or iPad, nevermind access the internet, due to familial or financial circumstances, homework or collaborative group work out with the classroom could be completely out of the question..

For schools in disadvantaged areas providing tech will likely not be the priority nor the answer.

Technology, for all its benefits, can also be a real cause of division. From skills and knowledge to access, there has to be considerable thought given to each individual case around the suitability of digital and a clear plan for uptake and embedding it for all students and teachers. And sensitivity and sensibility in these instances will be key.

Another major concern is the dangerous world that is opened up to children who are maybe unfamiliar with technology, from cyber-bullying to online predators, the online world can be unsafe and scary for children (and, indeed, parents). However, this can be helped with parental controls and only using websites that are safe for a school environment when within the school walls. Educating children on the very real risks and best practice around the internet and technology is also vitally essential.

Another potential hindrance is the cooperation of teachers. With many teachers already worried about the lack of engagement in students due to technologies and social media, will the teaching population of the UK lean against digital transformation in schools? With 60% of teaching claiming that training in technology is an aim for them, perhaps not. Adopting safe practices and healthy relationships with technology would be paramount when bringing children into a fully digital environment and is likely the main concern for any teachers facing down a digital future within schools.

Should schools be going digital?

Rounding off

Overall, there is an endless list of pros and cons when it comes to adapting a fully digital environment for our schools. Digital is the future and we’d go as far as to say that it is quickly becoming the present. If schools cannot go digital, there should be the scope to include more digital learning within the classroom to support children in this ever growing digital landscape. With many of today’s workers having to adapt to new technologies and digital practices in the working environment, it is essential that the future workers are able to assimilate easily when the time comes for them to transition from education to work.

But, we wish to reinforce the importance of not taking a broad brush approach to such a complex problem. As with each and every client digital transformation, we work on, individual circumstances, competence and accessibility must be considered for any change of note to be delivered.

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