According to UNESCO, more than 1.6 billion children worldwide lost learning opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic. And although schools have reopened in many countries, students still regularly face periods of quarantine. With many children lacking needed resources and support for continued learning at home and in the classroom, the differences in students’ learning progress is more apparent. Education systems must bridge this gap with ambitious and strategic planning for learning recovery and ongoing learning improvement.
UNICEF, ISTE, UNESCO, and the World Bank have recognized the importance of digital tools in this effort, as the tools can provide a flexible, personalized approach for students. At Microsoft, we too believe in this power of digital tools, which can transform educational systems and support schools, teachers, and students. Through our community-based Microsoft Showcase Schools (SCS) and Leaders in Digital Transformation of Education (LDTE) programs, we bring together forward-looking education leaders and technology experts in a collaborative environment where they can share best practices and explore innovative approaches to harness technology.
During the Microsoft Showcase School & Leaders in Digital Transformation of Education joint summits this week, we’ve unlocked a few key insights that guided participants’ success.
Device choice and availability matter
Effective and inclusive learning is highly influenced by the type of device students use. “For years we went to educational technology conferences and heard speakers preach device doesn’t matter. I would argue that it does. It depends on how you use them, but our students deserve a device that doesn’t inhibit their education,” says Jeff Gerdeman, Director of Technology, St. Francis High School, USA, a Microsoft Showcase School.
Devices can accelerate learning by providing key insights into a student’s progress and challenges. Jonathan Bishop, CEO of The Cornerstone Academy Trust, which has several schools in the Microsoft Showcase School program, says, “I think a personalized approach to education is about knowing the attitudes, skills, anxieties, and knowledge a student has so that we can build on that and ensure they progress.” One of Jonathan’s first schools, Broadclyst Primary School, was an earlier adopter of 1:1 device usage in the classroom, which enabled these personalized approaches. Having school-provided devices ensured each student had a good quality device appropriate to their learning level.
Data, insights, and AI-powered tools help personalize learning
Digital learning platforms, combined with learning analytics, can support every student’s journey by letting teachers view group progress and engagement along with individuals’ strengths and needs.
“We have heterogenous students in our classrooms with different backgrounds, skillsets, and goals, so our goal is to provide tools for teachers to personalize learning,” says Pasi Silander of Helsinki, Finland. Helsinki is Finland’s biggest school system and one of the first in the world to develop a digitalization strategy, which dates back to 2016. Helsinki was also a founding member of the LDTE program. The city relies on AI and data analytics to inform its education policies and determine the best strategies for boosting learning activities, allocating resources, and unlocking students’ full potential.
Vusal Khanlarov, Head of the Bureau on ICT for Education in Azerbaijan, another leader in the LDTE program, says data and insights are important for inclusive and personalized learning. “Everyone learns differently, and to define these different patterns we have to understand how each student is performing. That cannot be done without digital means,” he says. Thanks to their engagement in LDTE, the Bureau launched a new analytics project to analyze learning patterns resulting from remote learning, which it did on behalf of the Ministry of Education. Today, the Ministry of Education employs data-driven decision making, using data and AI to enhance learning based on each student’s strengths and weaknesses. “We have a system where we can see how each student in the country is performing and participating in classes. We can even measure, through various surveys, a student’s social-emotional condition,” says Khanlarov.
Yet teachers are not always eager to embrace technological innovation, so it’s key to help them see the benefits of new technologies. “Teachers have to understand the value that technology is bringing,” says Khanlarov.
It’s also important to humanize learning analytics and AI. Sir Mark Grundy, CEO of Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust, says one way to do it is by enabling teachers to see their students in the data. “The moment they see children in data, people change their behaviors. When they just see numbers, they don’t see children,” he says. Sir Grundy’s team used Power BI to show a picture of each student alongside the data that educators were using to evaluate performance, allowing the teachers to “feel” the technology’s impact by associating the improved outcomes with real learners.
Driving scalable transformation requires a community of peers and mentors
Thomas Clarkson Academy (TCA) is in one of the highest areas of deprivation in the UK—an area with low social mobility and socioeconomic status. Trevor Jones, the Director of Digital Technology at TCA, says the digital transformation of his school accelerated once it joined the Microsoft Showcase School program. “It opened further access to a global support network, including events and access to help, hints and tips,” Trevor says.
“We have transformed education through staff and student IT skills; improved workflows; organization; working smarter; collaboration; security (GDPR); sensitivity labels; Flows; Power BI and insights that provide data analysis and automation; a staff information hub, and making a jump to the cloud.”
Trevor adds, “We've harnessed the collaborative tools Microsoft provides to lead training across our entire Trust and establish cross-school and cross-phase partnerships.”
Participants in both the Microsoft Showcase Schools program and the Leaders in Digital Transformation of Education program haven’t just driven transformational strategies in their own systems. They have helped other leaders evolve strategies. Engaging in both programs is a terrific opportunity for leaders globally to learn more from each other and impact students at scale through digital transformation.
Learn more and self-nominate to participate in the Leaders in Digital Transformation of Education program: https://aka.ms/ldte
To discover and connect with Microsoft Showcase Schools worldwide and learn more about the Showcase School program, visit https://aka.ms/scsp