Stewart Watts, VP EMEA at D2L, explores the current Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) revolution and how technology can support the education sector’s post-COVID recovery
The pandemic has driven a significant shift across the education sector. During the opening of the International Education Strategy: 2021 in February, MP Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, commented that the transformation seen during the last 18 months has ultimately changed the way that education will be delivered across the globe forever.(1)
According to a recent report by the British Council, and authored by the Association of Colleges, it is unlikely that colleges will ever return to pre-pandemic teaching and learning practices. In fact, based on research across five countries, the report revealed that six per cent of global technical and vocational education institutions will maintain purely face-to-face teaching delivery.(2)
It appears that online learning is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, as institutions navigate the road ahead. As the pandemic continues to evolve, many schools and universities will want to establish robust contingency plans. While the UK government has issued a recovery roadmap and lifted many remaining restrictions, some schools may still find themselves having to isolate classes, or particular year groups.
To this point, the government has also issued a new addendum, outlining that schools in England must continue to provide remote education for those students who cannot attend classes in person this year. Building on the lessons learned during recent months, we are likely to see a continued reliance on digital technology to deliver remote learning as and when required.(3)
Recovery roadmap: Providing resilience
Disruption to education over the last year and a half has been well-documented and, in many ways, ongoing. Despite the progress made by schools, colleges, and institutions since the first set of mandated closures, many have experienced stumbling blocks with their online learning provision. Indeed, a recent report by the UK government looked into the efficacy of remote and online learning since the start of the pandemic, and how student attainment scores have been affected.1 It is estimated that pupils in England on average lost around 61 days of schooling between March 2020 and April 2021 – a third of their learning time – despite the move to online teaching.2
Equitable access to quality education is a basic right, and steps must be taken to get students’ learning back on track and ensure no child is be left behind. With the challenges that the sector looks set to face over the coming year, we must have certain fail-safes in place to safeguard continuity in education.
Technology and data analysis will be important here. However, given the uncertainty surrounding future restrictions, schools, colleges, and universities will require more effective blended learning strategies – ensuring courses are adaptable and staff can easily transition from in-person teaching to online at short notice. Establishing a solid digital infrastructure will help, and Edtech can provide a solution and truly empower our teachers.
The ‘Great Catch Up’ and rising workloads
Prior to the pandemic, The Department of Education (DfE) conducted a survey of 2,000 school and college staff which revealed teachers were working on average more than 50 hours a week, with the majority of their time spent on marking and other administrative tasks. Facilitating the sudden switch to remote education has understandably increased this workload further.(4)
In fact, a more recent survey by Ofsted indicates that 86 per cent of teachers feel their workload has increased considerably since the start of lockdown. Of course, as many institutions were likely forced to accelerate their digital transformation by necessity, last spring may have been the first time some lecturers and teachers would have ever considered teaching remotely.(4)
With the right tools, critical workflows can be digitised, which in turn frees up teachers’ time to focus on other high-priority tasks. Similarly, by using data analytics, teachers can have real insight into individual students’ progression, allowing for targeted intervention, which will be critical in the coming months.
Video content is also growing in both sophistication and popularity. Whilst video lectures have been delivered throughout the last 18 months, the advent of new digital technologies and solutions makes video-assisted learning far more effective and accessible, making it an integral part of any curriculum. Pre-recorded lessons can be used for revision or where pupils miss lessons due to illness, or provide lesson cover. It is important to remember teachers’ continuous professional development (CPD) requirements, as they must be encouraged and trained how to incorporate these digital solutions effectively into their daily routines.
Empowering our teachers: The digital revolution
Staff need to be fully equipped and ready to use all the digital tools that they have available. Whilst they may have gained experience over the last academic years, many have never been ‘officially’ trained in delivering online learning – it is not necessarily part of most initial training curricula. Lecturers and teachers need to be equipped with the right tools to deliver effective online or blended learning, but they need to be shown how to integrate these solutions within their own courses and design engaging online environments. Staff should be encouraged to include digital learning classroom methodologies as part of their continuing professional development (CPD) plan.
As indicated in the UK government’s recent education strategy, the pandemic will have a lasting impact, and this presents an opportunity to reimagine education and explore new methods of teaching.3 Schools and colleges must continue to drive forward innovative digital learning strategies, reviewing the current curriculum and exploring new ways of teaching.
As part of The DfE’s recovery strategy, there will be a review of the current state of schooling quality and assessment, and this includes an exploration of digital teaching and learning.4 Policymakers, faculty, and teachers will need to reflect on the impact of digital transformation in technical and vocational education and training (TVET), drawing upon the data and tools at their disposal to address all future learning needs. This will kickstart the online learning revolution the sector needs. With students returning this month, staff will have to use all tools at their disposal to plug the gaps in students’ learning and move courses online should circumstances change. Edtech has proven its worth throughout this pandemic and will play a vital role in our recovery.