MD of Code Club criticises educational tech suppliers as outdated and exploitative

‘Suppliers need to bring school tech into the modern era’

The MD of education tech activist Code Club has told PCR that suppliers and retailers need to get with the times when selling tech to schools.

“Suppliers and retailers need to step back and think really carefully about whether what they are selling into schools is appropriate for the era of makers and making – the era of the computing curriculum,” said Laura Kirsop, referring to the redesigned school curriculum for 2014, which focuses more heavily on coding and technology design.

Kirsop suggested that by remaining stuck in the past with outdated business methods and offerings, firms were impeding technological advancement in schools.

“Schools are bombarded with companies trying to sell to them and most of the software and hardware is substandard,” she explained.

“At the moment companies exploit teachers’ inexperience with technology and lack of time to sell terrible products to them, as they know they can get away with it. Companies should have higher expectations of schools and teachers, sell in innovative products and then support and train teachers to work with it.

“A lot of the schools I go into have dreadfully maintained PCs and networks, installed with a decade’s worth of software that they barely use. They have none of the new things being produced by small and exciting companies who really understand computing and making.”

Kirsop commented that the primary factor holding back the presence of new technology in educational institutions was a matter of price, but added that if schools and suppliers were to focus on education-specific technology, rather than general electronics, cutting-edge products would soon become achievable.

“The main barrier is cost and the priorities of shrunken school budgets,” she said.

“Lots of schools are now investing in tablets, but I’m not really sure that’s the right thing to be doing – there’s definitely an element of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ as the rate of adoption is pretty crazy.

“I’d like to see schools investing in things like the Raspberry Pi, Technology Will Save Us kits and 3D printers, which teach children to make, build and program, rather than seamless consumer electronics that encourage your kids to just be users of tech.

“Stuff like 3D printers are perfectly affordable now, especially the ones you can build yourself – you can pick them up for a few hundred pounds.

“I’ve managed a school’s ICT budget so I know it’s tight, but I think if you examine your priorities and look at the expensive subscriptions and licenses you can do without, technology like 3D printers becomes affordable – even with training for staff on top of the purchase.”

Kirsop concluded that recognising educational tech as a sector with its own specific needs and requirements would provide a fruitful and modernised market for schools, students and suppliers alike.

“School ICT has been modeled along office lines – banks of black PCs that take 10 minutes to turn on,” she commented.

“This has to change. School technology shouldn’t look like that – it should be fun, creative and encourage tinkering, making and programming.”

Read more about the burgeoning education technology market in the upcoming ‘Back to School’ August issue of PCR

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