How will schools bridge the digital divide in 2021?

How will schools bridge the digital divide in 2021?

Australia saw the greatest surge in the use of ed-tech tools globally during COVID-19 with a staggering 190% increase, according to a new global report.

However, the massive shift to flexible and remote learning due to COVID-19 also highlighted the scale of the equity gap in Australia’s schools, in particular the digital divide between rich and poor students.

According to the AEU’s 2020 State of our schools survey, 27% of public school principals said that they did not have the resources necessary to shift to remote learning, and 68% said they received no additional resources to help with the transition to remote learning.

The survey also showed that 69% of teachers worked on average 12 additional hours per week on top of their usual hours when involved with remote learning

“And yet, the Federal Government has not provided a single dollar of extra funding to public schools to assist teachers to manage and adapt to the unique demands and workloads that the coronavirus pandemic poses, whether they are teaching face-to-face or by remote learning,” AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe said in an op-ed provided to The Educator.

“Instead, they provided $10 million to private schools to improve COVID-19 hygiene measures, in what can only be described as failing their fundamental responsibility to the two-thirds of school students who attend public schools. Extra investment into public schools is not only good for teachers and students, it is good for the economy”.

As schools begin Term 1, attention is shifting to what can be done to ensure that all sectors are sufficiently equipped to both help students catch up on lost learning and handle further potential disruptions.

Future proofing starts with ICT

Iain Finlayson, managing director of libraries and education at Civica, said that if schools are to future-proof themselves from disruption, they must take proactive steps to shore up their IT systems.

“As lockdowns continued past a few weeks, as they did in some states, a lack of accessibility to back-office functions and systems for administration and finance became an internal issue for some schools, whereas those schools that had already made a change to cloud delivered administration systems often did not experience any,” Finlayson told The Educator.

“The schools that experienced a long and protracted closure will have an excellent view on what worked and what didn’t from a system view”.

Is virtual learning the future?

A new study into how students’ use of virtual reality learning environment (VRLE) can improve their test scores could have important implications for schools and universities worldwide.

The study, conducted by UniSA lead researcher Dr Rhodora Abadia and James Calvert of Torrens University, found that high school students show greater knowledge mastery after learning through VRLE, compared to those who did not.

The researchers surveyed 79 Australian students from two secondary schools – one public and one private – who took part in a VR story about the Kokoda campaign. The study also involved 32 Indian university students to see if the outcomes were different if the students didn’t have a cultural awareness of the content.

Dr Abadia said the results have crucial real-world applications for students.

“The most important implications of the results of our research is that schools can use VRLE as an effective means for students to learn experientially in a virtual environment and that this knowledge can be mastered and transferred to the real world,” Dr Abadia told The Educator.

“The technology allows educational designers to create VRLEs where students can interact with the objects in the environment, which increases the student’s immersion, perception and knowledge through experience”.

Dr Abadia pointed out that while VR is relatively expensive as a learning resource in schools and universities, there are several factors that could see the ‘digital divide’ effectively bridged in the years ahead.

“The cost of hardware is becoming more affordable due to increasing demand from the games industry. That said, the real challenge is in producing the content,” she said.

“A consortium or a state-wide effort to share both the costs and skills required”.