The EdTech Sceptics

The always ebullient Tom Bennett caused something of an edutwitter stir yesterday with a tweet expressing sentiments with which, I would argue, the majority of teachers (not to mention children and their parents) would agree at this point. He was subjected, predictably, to a good deal of vitriol by people who hadn’t bothered to understand what he was saying.

Fortunately, others were on hand to clarify matters. But there is a point about the current EdTech debate which is indicative of broader trends within the education world.

To put my own cards on the table: I am grateful for the fact that technology has allowed me, for the past few weeks, to teach my classes remotely and deliver the curriculum in a relatively, if not completely, seamless manner. But I am also aware that this manner of teaching comes an extremely poor second to the face-to-face environment of the classroom, for all sorts of reasons.

Those who are expressing scepticism about the potential of education technology are not demeaning the efforts of individual teachers (and school executive) to adapt to these extraordinary circumstances. They are not deriding the achievements of those who have created the software and apps that have allowed teachers and their students to achieve some measure of normality in the Covid-19 world. What they are doing is pouring some cold water on the giddy, juvenile calls for a complete revolution in the structure of education at primary and secondary level.

To say that the experience of the last month gives few grounds for enthusiasm about such a revolution would be a severe understatement.

But here is the interesting thing.

It is not, on the whole, the tech startup types who have been leading the calls for an “education revolution”. Far less is it the individual teachers. Instead, of course, it is the usual gang of edu-gurus who are so gleefully seizing the “opportunity” of a global pandemic to push their garbled ideology to the forefront.

Whether it is Professor Yong Zhao (“literacy is less important now because of text-to-audio translators”), David Price (“any teacher who can be replaced by a YouTube video should be”), or Andreas Schleicher (take your pick of a hundred gormless quotes from over the years), it is the hardened progressivists of academia, consultancy and the NGO gravy train who are calling for EdTech to be the new reality rather than a useful support and fallback.

It is they who are childishly insisting that “we can’t possibly go back to the way it was before!”.

And it is they, not the boffins of the EdTech world, who are revealing just how pathetically out of touch they are with the everyday experiences of teachers, parents and children.

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