Plenty to celebrate at Edtech 50 2018, but disbelief at education secretary Damien Hinds' 'support'

At a time of shrinking school budgets, and following a decade of government neglect of ICT, the UK's educational technology community -– teachers, developers and suppliers of digital services and products – has needed something to celebrate.

The Edtech 50 2018 event, held at the House of Lords last week, provided just that opportunity. Created by Ty Goddard (@ty_goddard) of the Education Foundation and EdtechUK, with support from higher education ICT organisation Jisc, it was a "celebration of the people, products and projects shaping this dynamic and growing sector".

The 50 were selected by a panel of judges from a crowd-sourced list of nominations solicited via social media and gathered together on survey website SurveyMonkey. They represent an inclusive cross-section of the best people, products and projects operating in the UK.

Plenty to argue about but what's not to like?

Carol Allen
Carol Allen, special needs star of Edtech 50 2018

As with the Oscars and all other awards, there is plenty to argue about, but when you have people of the calibre of special needs adviser Carol Allen (pictured), Colin Hegarty and Abdul Chohan, products like Clicker 7, Night Zookeeper and now>press>play and projects like Basingstoke College of Technology, the Shireland team and school networks and learning grids getting such warm acknowledgement what’s not to like?

In fact the judges managed a mathematical miracle by cramming far more than 50 mentions into the Edtech 50. The list (at bottom of page) provides links and contacts for many of the best people involved in this sector so be sure to check them out.

And in case anyone thought the judges weren’t being inclusive enough there was also a Judges’ Commendations section that included Agent4change.net collaborator Bob Harrison, praised at the event as a “passionate ambassador at large for edtech”, and the Girls Education Challenge, along with a Ones to Note category complete with its own people, products and projects sub-categories, featuring, among others, Miles Berry, Renaldo Lawrence, Claire Lotriet and Nesta’s Rocket fund. The complete lists are included in the publicity brochure circulated at the event (downloadable as a PDF document).

All credit to the judges then: Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist), Sky Caves (Basingstoke College of Technology), Sherry Coutu (entrepreneur and investor), Ian Fordham (Microsoft UK), Steve Frampton (Portsmouth College), Ty Goddard, Martin Hamilton (Jisc), Claire Price (headteacher), Dan Sandhu (entrepreneur and investor), Shahneila Saeed (UKIE), Bukky Yusuf (teacher), and Mark Martin (@urban_teacher).

Sky Caves
Sky Caves: 'pleasure of being judge'

Sky Caves (pictured left), who described herself as a learning technology apprentice, spoke at the event of the “pleasure of being a judge”. She hadn't been sure what to expect but said it was "the most comprehensive overview of the edtech sector from public to private, early years to HE that I have ever seen.

“I was taken aback by the sheer number of nominations put forward by the public, each and every one a snapshot of the fantastic work happening up and down the country. Also, however, it was really touching to see the passion, excitement and appreciation of everyone putting the nominations forward, expressing endless praise for those giving us guidance and support across the sector, relentless enthusiasm for the innovative and dynamic products and projects and, most importantly, immense support and gratitude for how the aforementioned have transformed and enriched learning experiences around the globe.”

Fellow judge Paul Feldman, CEO of Jisc, commented: "What a celebration of people who are doing phenomenal things for our children. At the end of the day that is what this is about, and that is what JISC is about - how do we use technology to improve the way our children or college students and university students are being taught? How do we improve the way in which they are accessing knowledge, and how do we give them the skills they need to be productive in the future?"

The Education Foundation's Ty Goddard at Edtech 50 2018The Education Foundation's Ty Goddard at Edtech 50 2018Even though the lack of razzmatazz felt like a good thing, the Edtech 50 was a curiously downplayed event – the invitations were for “afternoon tea” with Lord Lucas, the backbench hereditary peer and Conservative Ralph Matthew Palmer, editor of The Good Schools Guide and a keen programmer who once hoped that computers would replace maths teachers. And many of those invited were not even aware that they had been included in, or even nominated for, the Edtech 50. That’s not surprising considering that The Education Foundation is very much a one-man band following the departure of Ty Goddard’s former partner Ian Fordham to a key role with Microsoft UK.

For such a small organisation it clearly has impeccable political connections, managing to elicit such a fulsome credit from education minister Damian Hinds MP; “There are so many reasons to be optimistic about the possibilities for technology across education. Edtech is increasingly supporting improved outcomes across England and internationally, and in my short time as Secretary of State for Education I have already seen how it can support and transform education at every step of the journey.

“The work of inspirational leaders across the sector who are working tirelessly to support education, will be fundamental in ensuring the wider realisation of the opportunities presented by technology; to support improvements across the breadth of our education system."

Damian Hinds MPEducation secretary Damian Hinds MP struts his stuff at the Education World Forum 2018

However, those who have witnessed the dire political leadership in this area for the past decade, recognise the superficiality of those words and do not share his optimism. His words are not backed by government action and there is little research providing direct links between technology and improved educational outcomes. Indeed feedback from the DfE indicates that far more energy is being put into finding back doors for bringing back grammar schools than harnessing ICT for learning or even making savings.

Those present at the minister's first major outing at the Education World Forum in January saw him confidently striding across the stage praising the (failing) computing curriculum with proud talk of his £80-odd million hopes for turning it around by creating more computer science teachers. His braggadocio style was undermined by the very next person to take the stage, Miguel Brechner (@mbrechner) of Uruguay’s respected Plan Ceibal project. Based on clear principles of equal opportuities and inclusion, this has brought digital literacy to all the country's students and teachers as well as targeting homes.

Miguel Brechner of Uruguay's Plan Ceibal Miguel Brechner of Uruguay's Plan Ceibal Matter of fact and self-effacing, he spelt out practical and replicable priorities for effecting change and innovation with technology for learning. One thing his country had in common with England was a teacher shortage. They needed more staff to teach English, so they hired them from as far afield as the Phillipines and Europe to work with schools on their high-speed national network. The problem was solved and did not require massive investment.

If any UK ministers or civil servants had bothered to ask him he could have helped them harness the rich expertise of industry specialists in the UK and further afield to support the teaching of computer science – instead of throwing yet more millions at a failing curriculum which is experiencing not just a teacher shortage but plummeting numbers of students taking technology-related subjects at GCSE level.

While the UK’s educational technology community needs all the cheerleaders it can get, it also needs critical analysis of the stagnated policy that is now holding back schools and innovators in England. The Edtech 50 marks the achievements they have made despite Government policy, not because of it – and that was their own informal feedback at their Westminster celebration. Those criticisms need amplification as well, rather than uncritical repetition of a minister's empty words. He already has his own publicity machine.

Edtech 50 2018 publication download (PDF)
The Education Foundation


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