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 created a demand for enhanced access to technology. This shift also underscored the importance of digital literacy among school staff, pupils, and parents, impacting children's learning abilities. A distinct digital divide surfaced, with some seamlessly integrating technology into their learning process. Others faced a steep, and 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.

Navigating Change: Department for Education's EdTech Demonstrator Programme Enhancing Digital Strategies in Schools

Supporting schools through this period of immense change, the Department for Education’s EdTech Demonstrator Programme supports schools and colleges in developing digital strategies. Launched in Spring 2020, it swiftly became a crisis-response resource just before the pandemic onset, offering vital support. Now, it aids schools in crafting future-focused plans for optimal technology utilization within their organizations, ensuring long-term effectiveness.

James Garnett, EdTech Demonstrator Programme Lead at United Learning, discusses addressing the digital divide and ideas for reducing technology disparities.

This is what he had to say:

What is Causing the Digital Divide?

COVID-19 highlighted the stark "digital divide" between schools leveraging technology effectively and those struggling, revealing disparities in adaptation. The digital divide can compound other factors which impact on pupil performance and exacerbate existing inequalities in education. At the organizational level, coherent tool and data analytics use drives improvement and narrows gaps. At the classroom level, effective educational technology amplifies good teaching for enhanced knowledge acquisition. On an individual level, extended learning and flexible staff work are facilitated outside the classroom through tool and resource access. The digital divide manifests at these three vital levels. More information on the digital divide can be found here.

What Can We Do About it?

Embrace the initial step of narrowing the digital divide by acknowledging that technology, when implemented and used effectively, supports school improvement and enhances pupil/student outcomes. Transitioning from this acknowledgment, schools can then integrate technology strategically into their educational practices. This integration fosters a more inclusive and effective learning environment. 

Consider reaching out to the Department for Education's EdTech Demonstrator Programme as your next step. Leverage the program for access to free expert advice on educational technology. Selected from 40 institutions, these schools and colleges demonstrate significant expertise and experience in effective EdTech utilization. Leverage this valuable resource for tailored guidance. 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.

If you find yourself uncertain about how technology can benefit your school or college, the programme offers a solution. Attend the free national online EdTech conference on Wednesday, March 16th, where EdTech Demonstrator staff will share insights into effectively using technology to enhance educational outcomes in their institutions. 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 your goal is to maximize the impact of technology on effective teaching techniques or delve into developing a comprehensive digital strategy, there is an enormous breadth of topics available.