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The invisible tech offering every child the future they deserve

(Image credit: Image Credit: Billetto Editorial / Unsplash)

The government recently announced £300,000 investment into trialling new edtech for disabled pupils. This ambitious project explores how AI, online learning and assistive apps enhance lessons for both teachers and disadvantaged pupils – building a future where anyone can achieve their full potential.

Such schemes offer a glimpse into a future where every classroom is fully connected, enabling schools and universities to unlock and capitalise on new technologies as they emerge. And at the heart of this exciting vision is infrastructure – the invisible, yet vital component for success.  

Classrooms transformed

In recent years, we have seen rapid advances in classroom technology – including assistive apps for disabled children and upgraded connectivity in schools. These are transforming student outcomes by creating new learning opportunities for those struggling with basic literacy and numeracy – giving children instant access to the best educational resources regardless of their socio-economic background.

VOOM 2018 winner Therapy Box, founded by speech therapist Rebecca Bright MBE, detects developmental language disorders in children and provides them with the support they need to learn core literacy and numeracy skills. Whether it’s building educational games for pupils with dyslexia to help them read and write or providing eye-tracking software (a technology traditionally available on only expensive hardware), the company is already making a difference to the prospects of the disadvantaged across the country’s classrooms.

Already, we’re seeing the benefit of investment in networking technology in action. The London Grid for Learning (LGfL) continues to improve learning environments and accessibility to educational resources across the country. In partnership with Virgin Media Business, it provides secured internet access and education tools to around 3,000 schools nationwide, delivering speeds of up to 1000Mbps at no additional cost.

The LGfL supports the use of augmented and virtual reality, live-streaming and 1:1 student/device ratios in the classroom. It gives students access to the latest, highly immersive content and learning materials. Vital e-Learning and internet-based resources are being delivered without viruses or spam, creating a safe online learning environment in which children can explore, grow and achieve their aspirations.

Another leap towards a digitally-driven classroom – with equality and opportunity at its centre – was made by Pearson, which announced last year that it would be phasing out printed textbooks, and its resources moved to online platforms. The new digital textbooks incorporate videos and assessments that provide students with immediate feedback. The move represented an important milestone for the sector, symbolising a shift from traditional, didactic teaching towards interactive and collaborative learning spaces.

Each of these innovations has been made possible by underlying infrastructure. Many of Therapy Box’s innovations rely on the ability to process and analyse large amounts of pupil data as smoothly as possible and therefore require next-generation networking to make that happen. And the success of the London Grid for Learning is all about the ultrafast speeds at which teachers and pupils can access the information they need.

Clearly, schools need to continue investing in infrastructure to ensure that pupils benefit from these exciting technological advancements. In doing so, they can take advantage of the limitless opportunities that lie ahead.

A future full of opportunity

Looking through our crystal ball, the first thing we see is that interactions between educators, parents and children could be transformed. Parents’ evening could become a thing of the past, replaced by regular, streamlined, real-time digital reporting on children’s performance. Continuously motivating students to fulfil their potential, intuitive and adaptive reporting systems might enable more meaningful objectives to be set.

Lessons will also become more personalised. We’ll see AI-driven technologies such as DreamBox, the maths education software that adapts to different skills levels and lets students learn at a pace suited to their needs, become commonplace. Adaptive learning software will quickly replace traditional materials such as worksheets and physical textbooks, with e-textbooks allowing students to manipulate the materials in front of them to suit their learning habits – for example, using dyslexic-specific fonts, or different font sizes.

Teachers will also benefit from edtech dedicated specifically to improving their wellbeing. According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, teaching staff and education professionals suffer from the highest rates of stress, depression and anxiety in the country. Technology will have a crucial role to play in reducing the administrative burden on staff by automating elements of marking and planning – while wellbeing apps tailored specifically for teachers will provide them with emotional and psychological support while on the job.

Underpinning all these innovations will be next-generation networks. These will continue to advance, matching greater speeds with more robust security systems, capable of transmitting even more data between teachers, parents and pupils instantaneously.

Equality, not elitism

By democratising access to information and giving teachers and schoolchildren the opportunity to use digital platforms seamlessly and securely, connectivity is addressing inequality and instilling the right ethos in our classrooms.

But how can we ensure this education revolution benefits everyone?

These innovations should remind everyone – government, educators, the private sector – of our shared responsibility to ensure that every pupil benefits from the classroom revolution, and that all schools are set up to take advantage of digital opportunities.  Innovations such as the London Grid for Learning show that connectivity can play a vital role in levelling the playing field and putting power at the fingertips of all teachers and schoolchildren.

Connectivity: The invisible force

“If you’re planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people” is a Chinese proverb that has never been so relevant.

Getting the underlying networks right and ensuring the correct foundations are in place to support innovation – whether it’s AI-driven personalised learning or interactive digital resources – means every child can benefit from the ongoing education revolution regardless of any physical, mental and socio-economic differences.

Mike Smith, Managing Director (Direct), Virgin Media Business

Mike Smith is the cofounder of Company Debt, the UK’s largest insolvency hub.