Reflecting on the digital benefits of lockdown…

By Ruth Gilbert, Chair of the Career Colleges Trust
As a mother and educator, I am acutely aware of challenges, hardships and tragedy brought about by the health crisis we have all living with for the past six months. Like many other people, I am now preparing for my daughter’s return to school and am now able to give some thought to the positives that have come out of our situation.

The imperative for creativity
Led by my daughter (‘student-led’) we’ve discovered an array of creative websites and platforms – from free coding programmes for kids (like Scratch) to other learning resources such as BBC Bitesize, and free virtual museum tours around the world. There are also many charity online resources (home-education.org.uk) and YouTube for kids for lots of current affairs-focused material covering the environment, politics and much more.

Self-development and a debating skills!
I’ve updated my own skills via a plethora of free MOOCs and VOOCs (online courses open to everyone), including learning more about the use of digital and social media for education.  As teachers, we strive to develop the capacity of students to learn independently and encouraging wider thinking around different topics. This has been a fantastic opportunity to develop an ‘enquiring mind’ and discuss a wider variety of learning methods with our students and children. I’ve had some healthy debates on global warming, discussing who is responsible for ensuring our environment is preserved for generations to come!

Technology as a ‘power tool’
In 2013 FELTAG (Further Education Learning Technology Action Group) made recommendations to the then Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise, Matthew Hancock MP (who is clearly busy with other matters at the moment!). The group’s ambition was to enable the education system to become continually adaptive to an environment that creates new challenges for learners and teachers. This included a range of suggested measures such as funding, assessment and CPD and came with targets focused on blended, online and virtual learning. How very pertinent this has felt in our current health crisis!

Covid-19 has acted as a catalyst to speed up the impact of technology on education and our daily lives. I believe it is key – not just to home learning.  We must encourage parents and students to embrace it. There is a myriad of ways to use it effectively; web meeting has been a source of business continuity, yoga classes, and saxophone lessons in my home!

What students want…
This global pandemic may provide the impetus that some teachers and managers in schools and colleges need to embrace some of these new technologies. This could revolutionise classrooms around the country – as well as helping young people to develop the digital skills they need for a range of exciting careers. Even when children return to school, the tutorial support, wider research and technical tools, and experience of modern workplace resources are critical for their development. In a recent national survey, reporting by the BBC (17th July 2020) the majority of young people responded saying they wanted to continue with some greater use of technology in their education. This is surely appropriate, given our global digital economy?

Employer engagement through technology
Workplace visits and work experience opportunities may need to rely on more online tours and project-based learning as we head into an uncertain few months. But what a great opportunity for children to research different careers and find out about the opportunities open to them, without inconveniencing employers. As emphasised by the Career Colleges Trust, there are many career options in sectors not covered directly by the National Curriculum – engineering, digitech, healthcare, research, smart buildings and the built environment. These require more creative practices for employer engagement, greatly facilitated by technology.

Changing our emphasis as educators?
A Teacher Tapp Poll for the Careers and Enterprise Company found that teachers consider workplace skills to be more important than exam results, particularly in the post-Covid jobs market:

74% of teachers say employability skills are now the most important way to improve pupils’ career prospects, compared to 62% who say good academic grades are

The Career Colleges Trust places emphasis on both – good foundation technical and vocational skills and qualifications – coupled with wider exposure to employer-led projects and curriculum priorities. We’re pleased to have a range of experts in both the use of digital technology, and industry requirements. Let’s put this reflection and experience to great use and share good practice.

You’re not alone…and my experience is educators don’t often ask for help!
Reach out to your Career Colleges Trust representative and ask how they can support you and your staff and learners. We were ‘early adopters’ of this industry-led education model, and it is now fully aligned with Government policy. Let’s harness our skills and experience to support our learners face this evolving new world….the Career Colleges Trust is here to support you on this journey.