UK schools waste 'millions' a year on useless gadgets

UK schools waste 'millions' a year on useless gadgets

Summary: Are school budgets being battered by teachers who buy but never use the latest gadget?

SHARE:

In the last five years, UK schools have spent over £1 billion pounds on buying the latest must-have gadgets, digital learning tools and software.

But how much of this investment is actually put to good use?

According to research released by non-profit organisation Nesta, although such a vast amount has been invested to modernize the British education system, there is "little evidence of substantial success" in improving learning through newly-acquired digital tools.

ipad digital learning method report mobile tech teaching
Credit: Zagg

Although technological advances can offer better access to educational material and interactive ways to learn, it isn't an effortless process. In order to integrate technology within the classroom effectively, from replacing traditional textbooks with iPads to smart whiteboards, structured teaching and a balance between technology and core lesson aims have to be maintained.

As the report notes, it's too easy to forget that not everyone is tech-savvy. As a former teacher, I recall working in several schools that would furnish their classrooms with the latest sparkly product, but forget to train their staff in its use, or assist them in ways to integrate technology within lesson plans. A desktop computer, tablet, smartphone or gaming system takes time to understand, and for busy teachers, finding methods to use this technology to achieve a learning aim may not be so simple.

The report suggests that spending £450 million pounds a year without evidence that it is improving education is nothing more than counter-productive. Instead of "fetishising the latest kit", Nesta says that teachers should make better use of what they already have.

In addition, the researchers say that many businesses are offering only "superficial" benefits to learning, and too many apps and digital games are used to sugar-coat dull and misdirected lessons.

However, teachers also need support, and must become "confident users of digital technology in order to deal with the complexity and safety of digital tools." Rather than using technology in an isolated way -- only for tablets to be returned to the cupboard after a lesson ends -- it should act as a conduit to keep learning going outside of school. By using the Internet to keep a learning network open and accessible, "social" tools, cloud computing and online groups could result in more effective teaching.

Rather than leaving millions of pounds' worth of equipment "languish unused or underused in school cupboards", the researchers suggest that in a time where economic problems are causing educational cutbacks, technology should serve as a tool rather than a distraction. Instead of giving in to the "hype" of digital learning, schools should reconsider how technology can serve as method to boost  education -- rather than a way to make ineffective teaching methods look innovative and exciting.

Topics: Tech Industry, Government UK, Smartphones, Tablets, United Kingdom

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

19 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • This is a classic cart before the horse problem.

    I see it so often - someone reads about a technology - or worse, owns and is a fan of a technolgy or brand - and then decides to evangelise it.

    They then work like crazy to promote it and encourage it in situations where they believe it will help - but it's not about the helping, it's about getting their fave technology in there. So they either don't really take the time to analyse the use cases and see how to build infrastructure, or see if the end users can or will actually use it - they just want to get the technology used.

    The end users then get stuck with something they didn't want, that they can't really use and that takes up too much of their time to maintain.

    It get shelved - and the end user ends up feeling resentful towards that solution. Later, when they actually DO have a problem that needs fixing and could be fixed with this technology, they will actually resist it just because of the bad experience they've already had.

    The right way is to look at the actual problem - find a solution - no matter what technology or provider, plan out the infrastructure and support needs, along with end user's changes in operations, put in that infrastructure and training, along with changes to operations to let the end user change their practice to match (if needed) THEN implement the technology.
    TheWerewolf
  • Same problem over and over -- not just schools

    Same problem over and over -- not just schools and not just the UK. Employers buy gadgets, whether it's a new operating system, new hardware, or whatever, and expect the employees to either "magically" assimilate the item or spend loads of their own time at home learning to use it.

    And then the users who DO spend a lot of their own time--e.g., computer power users--become the "go to" person, regardless of what their job is. Because "you know all about this", that person is expected to magically handle virtually instantly all problems that arise, while still doing their entire normal workload. Computer's got a virus or something else totaled Windows and it needs to be completely reinstalled, with all applications and updates? Never mind that that takes IT folks a minimum of 5 hours. Harry in accounting should be able to have it done in 20 minutes.

    I was shocked to find we have employees who have been using Windows computers for over a decade and they don't know about things like Windows Explorer, Ctrl-C for cut, Ctrl-V for paste, etc. They're not stupid beginners, they've worked in "knowledge worker" fields for decades and spend a good part of each day researching complex issues on the Internet. But no one ever trained them and many of them don't use computers at home or use them primarily for email, on-line banking and Web surfing.

    And by no means is it limited to IT. My mom worked for a school district for 25 years and retired around 1994 and she saw the same problems with non-IT tech and non-tech written program materials.
    Rick_R
  • My iPad usage is the same as these schools

    "millions of pounds' worth of equipment "languish unused or underused in school cupboards" "

    My iPad is languishing unused in a cupboard right now, collecting dust. It is actually currently at its most productive it has ever been while under my possession: it is keeping the dust off the portion of the shelf it is sitting on.
    toddbottom3
    • Let me just address ....

      the "quality" of some of my responses to some of your posts, as this may be as good a time/opportunity as any.

      In case you have not noticed, when someone posts something sincere and relevant, my responses are VERY different from when I respond to most of your post. I might add that there are other individuals here who get and deserve responses similar to those directed at you.

      When your sole purpose for being here is to:

      promote a single company/brand/platform,

      attack and ridicule all other companies/brands/platforms,

      your posts are often false, mindless, rude and disrespectful, and

      you are pretending to be neutral and sincere,

      you exhibit/represent some of the lowest and most despicable aspects of human behavior. You show little integrity and respect for others here and therefore deserve little from me. As a matter of fact, I take a certain pleasure from making your appearances here unpleasant when circumstances warrant. You are making yourselves such easy targets. It is like shooting fish in a barrel.

      Do unto others as you want others to do unto you.

      And btw, in case it escaped you, which unfortunately is likely, your post above is not a bad example of what I am talking about. Coming from a MS shill/fan boy, it is just too transparent.
      Shame on you.
      D.T.Long
    • Tis the season for giving

      Boasting that you have perfectly functional tech sitting "unused" on a shelf is most uncharitable of you at this time of year. That iPad could be sold on Ebay or donated to a local charity and put into the hands of someone who will appreciate it.
      oncall
      • Perfectly functional tech?

        Maybe you didn't understand my post. I was talking about the iPad. There is no way any iPad could be described as "perfectly functional tech".

        About the only thing the iPad could be used for is to watch dtlong lose his mind over my posts.
        toddbottom3
        • I understood you post perfectly well

          I am calling upon you to do the right thing. Don't come here bragging about how you can offord a $400+ "dust collector" just to prove to everybody what a wasteful and selfish consumer you are: "Oh look at me, I bought some expensive thing I have no use for and to prove its uselessness I am going to let it sit on my shelves collecting dust." I hope you will at least have the decency to take it to a recycling center when you are done satisfying your own ego and not toss it in the garbage.
          oncall
          • I'll take it for the price of postage?

            It will sell quite easily on fleabay.

            Although, here's one for you SC07, what would be the cost for me (td3) to send it to me (Little Old Man)?
            Little Old Man
      • "tech" as in "technician" or "technology"?

        ;)

        Funny how languages changes these days, and mostly out of engendering simplicity rather than thoughtfulness or even basic intellect...
        HypnoToad72
    • Be part of the solution

      Take up a teaching role in, say, Hedworth (UK).
      ego.sum.stig
      • But as a principal, not an instructor

        Principals without principles are a big problem, especially if they blindly listen to some third party's "recommendations" rather than thinking for themselves and what's actually best. And there are other factors that manipulate as well... but people are blindly flocking to the hype. That shows an even bigger problem... which I just typed a sentence or two ago...
        HypnoToad72
        • Principal? Bottom?

          Not a chance of that. Not even the worst in the UK would dare make him a principal. Ok, maybe that's a stretch, Ofsted does seem to encourage people who are less than average be put into such roles.
          ego.sum.stig
    • Instead

      Instead of having it "languish in your cupboard, collecting dust", why not donate it? At the very least it can be a nice little game tablet. You know, Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, etc. And that would at least be productive to someone.

      That is if you really do have the iPad in the cupboard.
      benched42
  • No use

    Einstein, Edison, Franklin and all the others never touched a computer in their live. There is no need for these gadgets. Study, hard work is all of what is needed.
    gbouchard99@...
  • So that helps the economy, so what?

    Or at least Apple and related companies and the term "economy" is so glibly handled these days that it could mean anything except what it's supposed to mean (e.g. Main Street)... obfuscation is cool...

    We never needed these big gadgets before, and from relatives relaying children's comments, like "I don't even have to think, it just shows the correct answer!" -- that's a red flag...
    HypnoToad72
  • The Modern Education

    sucks not only due to the corruption of both mind and soul in software spending. It just sucks, period. Yes, Microsoft Windbloats, Cupertino Extravagant Rubbish Os's do hold very little educational value. Yet, millions of dollars and euros continue to be wasted on the licenses that make people's IT IQ so infinitesimally small.
    O, tempora o mores, those bloody calculators in the elementary school and that stupid FOIL method!!!
    No, the state of things is very dismal indeed. Here in the US it is, I gather, even worse than that in the UK. (School) teachers are not respected and poorly educated. No decent Classical Literature. Kids don't seem to learn much from Math courses, you would notice that exact same material being iterated again and again with almost no avail. (I compare it to a toddler's feeding process, a wrong one. You feed, he/she spits out, you pick it up, feed it again -- continue until you're tired... Change the food or the feeder, for the God's sake.) They then come to me with absolutely no knowledge and skills whatsoever (thanks God, there are exceptions enough to make one so happy at times)... more spoiled than "tabula rasa". Most of colleges and universities are busy making money and finding newer and newer ways to attract more clientèle , so they don't care about the quality. Bloody innovators! The educational process remains to be extremely non-pedagogical yet so political. The incompetent are almost always in charge.
    eulampius
  • My Two Cents Worth

    As a former educator (15 years of high school math) I have found that there is no more obstinate, stubborn and small-minded a group as teachers. Most think they know everything and don't need to learn anything after their second or third year of teaching. And when you throw technology into the mix, most of them get the "thousand-mile" stare.

    The one time I tried to teach teachers how to use a computer to their benefit, I might as well have tried teaching calculus to fourth graders.
    benched42
    • Finally an explanation that makes sense

      Bottom, Davidson, Connery et al are all that type of teacher! Nothing else fits there postings. May they be terrored one day for each and every stupid post they make.
      ego.sum.stig
  • Raspberry pi

    an educational tool suitable for schools at a financial and technological level. A small, inexpensive device which can be deployed into an educational environment and used to increase awareness and knowledge of practical computing at an early age.

    Then move those who have shown some proficiency to a more complex system such as a full blown computer running Linux (as this OS, IMO, offers the greatest opportunity to learn the most in the shortest time span) but make sure the students actually put the machines together themselves, under supervision.

    They then move on to more commercial systems, Windows, Mac or the several flavors of Linux currently in common use or ideally all three. They can learn firsthand which OS deals with a given situation or problem in the best way and which offers the best results for different commercial activities but most importantly, which system works best for them. This could include smartphones, tablets or any other tech device.

    Hopefully, by the time they reach exam level, they will have a fair understanding of the technologies they will encounter every day for the rest of their lives and good idea how to use all of the current systems to best effect.

    The burning question would still be - who will teach tomorrows computer geniuses?
    mysecuritycenter