It’s well known that adoption of technology in primary schools has been slower than that in other education institutions. There’s an obvious reason for this: smaller organisations means less money to spend on staff and equipment. But the benefits of having a strong ICT resource in primary schools are clear. And with many schools becoming academies and choosing to become trusts, a lack of funding is becoming less of an issue.
In order to get a better idea of what the biggest bug-bears were, I approached the users of EduGeek for their thoughts on the challenges they faced with technology on a daily basis in their primary schools. In the interest of balance, I also spoke to a few of my friends who are teachers and teaching assistants, to get an education perspective.
Through doing this, I noticed some common themes in their feedback. Here are the most common problems with IT in primary schools.
- Lack of understanding and confidence
Nobody’s pointing fingers here. It’s not the head teacher’s job to know the ins and outs of every technical aspect of their infrastructure. But a lack of technical insight (and subsequent lack of communication with an actual technical person) can lead to problems.
Not considering the technical ramifications of an investment is dangerous. Nobody wants to spend thousands of pounds on a load of iPads, only to receive them and find you can’t get them to work with your network. And unfortunately, there are companies out there who are happy to take your money in exchange for a batch of shiny new or iPads without asking about your set up or advising you of the implications.
Another bug-bear from primary-based techies was that this lack of understanding often lead to unrealistic expectations. Not knowing how long or how much work is involved in bringing Apple hardware into a Microsoft environment could mean that the head expects their new investment to be up and running within days, but it could be weeks before they’re fully integrated.
From a teaching perspective, there’s definitely an issue with confidence. When there’s a range of technology at their disposal, a lot of teachers feel the pressure of knowing how to use a range of devices and software competently. If they lack confidence with the technology, they won’t use it. This means that a brand new investment might sit in a classroom unused.
- Misplaced investment
This lack of technical knowledge can in turn lead to scarce funding being misspent. The shiny new iPads we mentioned above? They may have come at the cost of an infrastructure upgrade that desperately needs to happen in order to keep the network going.
But again, we’re not pointing fingers here – the people investing in these technologies understand the end-user-facing devices – when they walk around the school, they can see their investment in action. They can see them being used in classes and that, to them, looks like success. What they can’t see is the ancient wireless system struggling to have all of these new devices connected to them, and the techie, sitting in his or her office tearing their hair out as yet another teacher knocks on the door to tell them that “the internet is slow.” What doesn’t often exist is the communication between the two parties to understand a) where investment is needed and b) what the implications of prioritising certain areas are.
In the scenarios we’ve laid out above, there is a member of technical staff to support the network. But in many primary schools, this is simply not the case. A lot of traditional primary schools have an ICT co-ordinator, who’s responsible for looking after the network and advising on investment for technology, but is also teaching every day. This means they don’t have the time to develop in-depth technical knowledge, and they don’t have the experience to keep the network running smoothly One EduGeek user recounted working in a school where a teaching assistant was network admin. While they were doing a great job at just keeping it going, they didn’t have the time, knowledge or experience to really make sure the technology was working as it should.
My friend, a teaching assistant, said that she felt she was more technically competent than other teaching assistants at her school, and was often approached by them for help. And while she was happy to, she often felt that it was taking up time that may have been better spent with pupils. While it’s good that one of the team feels confident with the technology, it’s obviously infinitely more beneficial to have the entire staff up to speed.
- Local Authority as a blockage
Despite a massive shift towards academies, a lot of primary schools are still relying on support from their Local Authority (LA). This, in theory, could be a great thing. You’re guaranteed technical support without additional investment, and you can buy equipment through the LA, increasing your buying power.
A lot of schools experience significant delays when reporting issues with technology controlled by the LA. For example, broadband and filtering. One EduGeek user said that if they reported a website they needed to be filtered, it could take up to two weeks for the LA to action this. Not ideal. It’s not necessarily the Local Authority’s fault, often they’re stretched very thin because of the number of schools they have to cover, but often the individual schools suffer as a result.
There are many challenges above and beyond those mentioned here when it comes to problems with IT in primary schools. But with careful management and planning (and maybe a helping hand from an external source), primaries can integrate technology just as successfully as a secondary school.