Schools must incorporate education technology to amplify the work of their teachers, not replace them, writes Leon Hady.

Teachers were forced to swap their whiteboards for Zoom Presentations during the pandemic. Students had to leave their scratched, gum-laden desks in favour of the kitchen table at home. As the advance in education technology (edtech) continues to intensify, many fear there will come a time when edtech will replace the need for in-person teaching. A lot of children go to school to feel safe. If this safety is removed through edtech, this could have massive consequences for the students later in life.

Although evidence suggests that edtech can improve students' academic performance, it firmly emphasises grade targets and assessment criteria instead of cultivating engaging learning spaces. Education is about far more than the grade you get at the end of the year; effective learning requires a strong student-teacher connection. Furthermore, the school environment is essential for children. It can never be replaced by remote learning or any other institution they would frequent in shopping centres, coffee shops etc. Community centres and libraries used to be more examples of these places, but they have since been destroyed by austerity.

Initially, schools had the function of helping children develop into rounded individuals who would thrive in society. Unfortunately, we have devolved into an academic system that prizes grades above the individual's learning journey somewhere along the way. Replacing teachers with edtech will only intensify our obsession with academic performance. It will reduce the attention given to creating fulfilling learning experiences. Thus forgetting we are raising humans, not robots for the economy.

One school experimented by not giving grades for the first six weeks of the school year and found a noticeable improvement in students' motivation. However, once grades had been reintroduced and had implemented a 100-point scale, students completely forgot the educational value they'd discovered and instead focused entirely on meeting each of the points. Being overly grade-oriented fosters a preference for the most straightforward possible pathway to meeting your target rather than encouraging the student to take intellectual risks. Grades have also been shown to reduce the overall quality of a student's thinking, with extrinsic motivation eroding intrinsic motivation over time.

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You can achieve an level 9/A* grade through online learning alone and obtain the same through in-person teaching alone. But with the former, all you get at the end of the process is the qualification. However, after collaborating and brainstorming with fellow students in a classroom environment, you leave your course with valuable shared experiences that you cannot get through digital learning. So qualifications are not the same as education.

That is not to undermine the positives that edtech can provide if we use it to enhance the roles of teachers. Edtech can certainly improve two critical aspects of education: access and assessment. Schools in rural areas often struggle to retain staff. Students can be hindered in their educational journeys simply because top schools are too far away. Edtech can provide these students access to resources that help to level the academic playing field and allow them to reach their potential. This is edtech providing access, not education.

The sad truth is that the fascinating benefits of edtech are not what is being championed by schools. In reality, the most appealing aspects to schools are its potential to cut costs and help staff meet compliance regulations. For instance, teachers often have to draw up complex Individualised Education Plans (IEPs), which are particularly important for students with special needs. Technology can help teachers make real-time adjustments to these and assist them in data collection, which saves them from time-consuming monitoring. This is understandable, and if we can save teachers time so that they can spend more lesson time with students, then this is a huge positive. But efficiency should not be the driving force behind edtech; it must instead be effectiveness. We cannot introduce edtech in the name of cost-cutting and time-saving – it must all be for the benefit of the student.

The dystopian notion of replacing teachers with edtech also implies a future where remote learning is the norm. Again, this idea betrays a failure to step outside of the grading system and see the bigger educational picture. Schools provide a safe haven for many vulnerable students and present a key channel through which child abuse and neglect are reported. Many fear that incident rates were still just as high, but fewer could come forward due to the loss of the school. Schools also provide necessary nutrition to students who would not otherwise afford it.

Edtech will be a hugely positive development for education – but only if we use it in tandem with in-person teaching. Shifting all learning online will only exacerbate society's unhealthy obsession with grades and academic figures, and narcissism associated with that. Creating an intellectually stimulating environment is only possible with teachers, peers and the wider school community.

Education should not be confined to our new-build secondary school walls. It should be a lifelong voyage. Our route should be guided by the winds of curiosity, not by the exams and grades that lurk on the horizon.

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