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EdTech - Laptops and Their Place in the Primary Curriculum.

The most fundamental resource in primary computing education, over the last few decades, has arguably been the laptop.

The fear of the ‘Laptop Trolley’ being booked out, equipment being charged, or all the right numbers being in the right slots, strike fear into most educators.

Schools have had increased funding to raise standards in technology and much has previously been spent on laptop provision.

Yet, how can we use laptops effectively to instruct and educate? How are they ‘actually’ being used?

Curriculum use – the broader syllabus

We are familiar with the integration of devices in the modern classroom. As much as budgets have gone towards laptops, i-pads are common-place in academies, nationwide.

We shouldn’t snub the laptop. It has a place. It is widely regarded as a great learning support tool for those who struggle to write, even as a translation device.

In a world that’s getting smaller, the increase in International New Arrivals in schools is impressing the need on educators to use technologies for inclusivity. In 2018, it was reported 7% of primary aged children and 10% of secondary children were INA’s, or had English as an Additional Language. That’s between two and three students on average, per class.

It seems there has perhaps been a reversal in approach to use of technologies, though. Apps are easily downloadable onto i-pads and laptops appear to be an extension of this idea. Where once, the laptop was king and a full set of 30 in a school was considered a wealthy provision, i-pads have taken the crown.

Laptops, in the effort to keep up, are often used with the same apps as i-pads. When the tablet trolley can’t be found, where do we go to… the big, hard to push trolley in the corner… full of laptops… to be used like i-pads. Children accessing the same learning on a different device.

Comparing Key Stages – How does the curriculum move on?

Many apps will give access to great practise and development of skills. If we compare Key Stage Two and Three curricula, then we see there is a shift in intent of outcomes.

Many teachers are aware of the idea of teaching backwards. Know the end point, then work out how to get there in logical, progressive steps. The end point for the curriculum in general, is to prepare students for the world they are going into. They should have skills and knowledge, enough to begin their life journey away from the classroom.

With this said, regards Computing skills, it is well documented that students don’t have the necessary skills when leaving education. Despite clear progress towards this in the curriculum, it doesn’t seem to be delivered.

A sharpened focus on the use of laptops in education could arguably address much of this.

What do we see as the key progressions from primary to secondary education? There is greater focus on applying the basic skills taught at primary, in Key Stage Three.

· Not just debugging but applying the skill to real world problem solving, creating abstractions to model physical systems.

· Taking logical reasoning from understanding algorithms and then comparing algorithms and their effectivity solving the same problem.

· Applying Boolean logic to repeated patterns and sequences.

· Not just understanding the components of a network and how they work, but how they communicate.

· Not just using different data types but progressively knowing how they can be represented in Binary.

· Greater involvement in projects and analysing data to develop systems to meet the needs of the user.

· Reusing and repurposing known digital artefacts for an intended audience, with consideration for user experience.

The latter two points are additional knowledge and skills built into this Key Stage. These show the beginnings of deeper understanding of network, systems, languages, all things ‘real-life.’

What stops industry from recognising these skills?

Beyond the Classroom

The harsh truth is, that, although these skills are essential to employment in the Computing and Technology niche, the wider use of technologies across a variety of industries, is creating the concern.

Technology is so integrated into the workforce and business, not many can operate without it. Basic skills of knowing formatting software, how to save and record onto documents, exporting information from one software to another, in essence everyday tasks in business, are not being achieved.

The curriculum addresses those students who have an interest and talent for developing their niche knowledge in Computing. For those jobs within this sector, after further education, skills and knowledge are enough. The student can begin their journey into life away from the classroom. The curriculum has achieved what it set out to.

The need for basic digital competency and understanding of technologies is tangible. Advocating industry experts in schools to model and show real experience of how their industry needs certain skills, is invaluable.

Laptops, used in a considered way, can then develop digital competency, typing skills, research skills, analytical skills, problem solving skills, collaboration - Skills required for a variety of industries.

Having a niche is great, but children MUST be able to communicate with and use basic computing skills, confidently, to improve their employability and life chances.

And so, our friend the laptop, the old faithful piece of tech that sits in a bulky box, forever plugged in, under lock and key DOES hold the key to improved outcomes and chances for the youth of today. We can’t assume they just ‘know.’

There is a place for laptops to support pupils across the curriculum, absolutely. However, we MUST ensure that laptops are used to develop basic technology skills and understanding, fit for purpose, fit for industry and not just simply another device to download apps onto.

If not… it really will be Game Over.

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