A new survey from Oxford University Press (OUP) argues that the lack of digital skills among students, teachers and parents is almost as detrimental to education in the aftermath of the pandemic as the lack of access to suitable technology.
A teacher survey carried out for the report, Addressing the Deepening Digital Divide, found the main barrier to teaching was lack of technology, cited by 68%. But this was closely followed by lack of digital skills (56%), with half of the teachers polled saying that parents didn’t have the technical know-how to support their children when it came to online learning.
The report, shared by Ed Technology, advised schools to focus more on independent online learning for pupils, while suggesting that school leaders and policymakers should provide constant on-the-job training for teachers so they can develop digital competencies.
Teachers believed that the most disadvantaged pupils were disproportionately impacted – three in ten said this group had lost learning time since the pandemic began, which is higher than among any other group.
Moreover, 37% of teachers stated that unequal access to the right hardware among pupils posed “a significant challenge to teaching during the pandemic”. Almost four in ten (39%) even said that poor broadband access impacted lesson delivery.
Enhancing broadband and giving pupils individual devices were the two improvements prioritised by the survey, at 39% and 57% respectively.
To develop online learning and adequately prepare pupils for employment, the accompanying report recommends that schools think about how best to promote more independent, self-guided study – which would be better suited to the style and practice of online-enabled schooling. Part of this could involve teachers rethinking how to assess student engagement – for instance, by asking pupils to set their goals and measure their progress.
The report concludes that “anxious, unconfident or depressed” teachers and pupils will not be able to meet their potential in the classroom. It stressed how leaders must allocate time for support and wellbeing measures, or the education catch-up will undoubtedly fall short.
Commenting on the report, UOP’s chief executive Nigel Portwood said: “The world of education continues to undergo significant digital transformation, and yet so many learners are being left behind because of the digital divide.
“And as our research shows, it isn’t just about ensuring people have access to the relevant devices, or improving connectivity; unless we fill skills gaps and make sure teachers, learners, and parents know how to use digital tools effectively, the digital divide will only continue to grow.”