Among the far-reaching consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic was the vastly accelerated uptake of technology across schools, homes, and workplaces in England. The sudden shift to remote learning brought a need for increased access to technology, and the digital literacy of school staff, pupils and parents had a real impact on children’s ability to learn. A clear digital divide emerged, with some able to integrate technology seamlessly into their learning process and others for whom this was a steep, in some cases unobtainable, learning curve.

In the summer of 2020, Edurio launched its report looking at technology use in schools as a result of the pandemic, which found:

1. Around 80% of school staff surveyed tried new technologies within the first term of the COVID-19 pandemic, most often combining them with already familiar tools. Most would welcome the opportunity to continue using these tools post-COVID.

2. In total, respondents named almost 150 different tools and providers that supported remote learning in various ways, with Google and Microsoft mentioned most frequently. 

3. In addition to the difficulties caused by siblings sharing devices, students and their parents also emphasised the reliance on printing equipment and books. Ensuring remote learning usually requires access to both digital and printed resources.

4. Most staff adopted a fairly traditional top-down approach to remote learning. Almost three-quarters of teachers reported using technology to plan and deliver lessons. Still, fewer than half asked learners to create their material in response to the teaching activity or used technology to offer differentiated activities for their students.

Supporting schools through this period of immense change, the Department for Education’s EdTech Demonstrator Programme supports schools and colleges in developing digital strategies. The programme was launched in Spring 2020, just before the onset of the pandemic, and quickly became a crisis-response resource. It is now looking to the future and helping schools develop longer-term plans for maximising the effectiveness of technology within their organisation. 

We spoke to James Garnett, EdTech Demonstrator Programme Lead at United Learning, about their experience dealing with the digital divide and some ideas about how schools can help decrease the gap between those who are making the most of technology and those who are struggling to do so. 

This is what he had to say:

What is Causing the Digital Divide?

The mass disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic brought into stark focus the “digital divide” which exists between schools and colleges who make effective use of technology, versus those who have been unable to do so. The digital divide can compound other factors which impact on pupil performance and exacerbate existing inequalities in education. This divide can occur at three levels; organisational level where coherent use of tools and data analytics will, for example, drive school/college improvement, and support narrowing the gap; at classroom level where effective use of educational technology will amplify the effects of good teaching and deliver better knowledge acquisition; at an individual level where access out of the classroom allows learning to continue for longer for pupils/students and allows staff to work more flexibly as they have access to tools and resources when not in school. More information on the digital divide can be found here.

What Can We Do About it?

The first step in narrowing the digital divide is accepting that, when implemented well and used effectively, technology plays a part in supporting school improvement and improving pupil/student outcomes. 

The next step may be contacting the Department for Education’s EdTech Demonstrator Programme. Here you can get access to free, expert advice on educational technology from 40 schools and colleges selected by the DfE for their significant expertise and experience in the effective use of Edtech. Whatever your context, budget or setting, the EdTech Demonstrators will be able to support you in maximising the benefits of the technology you already have and help you in developing a long-term digital strategy to deliver on your vision for your school or college.

Alternatively, suppose you are unsure how technology can support you and your school/college. In that case, the programme is hosting a free, national online EdTech conference on Wednesday 16th March where staff from the EdTech Demonstrators will give an insight into how they effectively use technology to improve educational outcomes in their schools and colleges. The conference offers a huge diversity of content, ranging from subject-specific sessions, SEND & accessibility, workload reduction, cyber security, and 1-to-1 programmes. School and college leaders, teachers, and technical staff can choose sessions for their specialisms.

Whether you want to maximise the impact of technology on effective teaching techniques or explore in detail how to develop a comprehensive digital strategy, there is an enormous breadth of topics available.

Click here for further detail on the sessions available, which cover primary, secondary and post-16 context. The perfect opportunity to discover how technology can be used to support your school/college and upskill through personalised CPD to help build an enduring digital strategy.