Response from Caroline Allams, co-founder and CEO, Natterhub.
The COVID pandemic has fundamentally changed our relationship with education technology. New tools and resources that might have taken years to reach schools were, by necessity, developed and released in a matter of months. But while education technology has played a vital role in helping teachers continue to do their jobs, the pandemic has also highlighted the undeniable necessity of a human element.
Even the most sophisticated, cutting-edge edtech tool on the market is just that – a tool. It’s only in the hands of a teacher that these tools can have any sort of meaningful impact on the development of young minds.
While children are very capable of understanding how technology functions, they can often struggle with the impact screen use has on their emotional wellbeing. According to a report by YoungMinds, 90% of school leaders have reported an increase in the number of students experiencing anxiety or stress over the last five years. The most common causes include exam stress, and the pressures of maintaining the kind of ‘perfect’ lifestyle children see reflected on social media; something which has only become more prevalent as pupils spend increasing amounts of time online in lockdown.
Finding a way for children to navigate the digital landscape is crucial if we are to have any chance of keeping children safe online. This was true even before COVID-19, of course, but the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have accelerated the process. While edtech resources can help pupils to grasp the mechanics of online safety – from creating strong passwords to reporting inappropriate content – it’s only when guided by a teacher that pupils can have the kind of experiential learning they need to internalise these lessons. Children might not understand that an online avatar isn’t always trustworthy, but they’re all familiar with the story of the Big Bad Wolf dressing up as Grandma to trick Little Red Riding Hood.
The essential role of the teacher is even more apparent when we apply edtech resources to more traditional subjects in the curriculum. For example, while online resources can help a child to work through the steps of a maths problem, they do so with a one-size-fits-all approach. By contrast, a teacher working closely with a child can adapt their pedagogy – by phrasing the problem differently, or focusing on a particular sticking point – in order to give that child the confidence they need to work out the answer independently.
We should also consider the emotional role that teachers play as ‘trusted adults’ in pupils’ lives – providing them with comfort and support throughout their school lives. Teachers are often the first to notice subtle changes in a child’s behaviour or attitude; the first warning signs that they need help with something troubling them. In a recent poll by the Daily Mirror, more than 70% of children aged 5-16 said that prolonged absences from school had had a damaging effect on their mental health, with many saying that they missed their teachers as much as they missed their friends.
As the pandemic ends and new innovations are brought more fully into the traditional classroom, we should consider how they can be used to teach children the abstract but crucial citizenship skills such as kindness, empathy, and resilience. These are the skills that will stand them in good stead not just in school but throughout their lives, both online and offline.