GECFutures Blog: BETT and Beyond
I travelled on a bus from our local consortium (a group of 5 local authorities in Wales) for our annual outing to BETT19. Our group consisted of primary school staff, a technician from a secondary school and myself from another secondary. No surprises there as my experience seems to be that primary schools find it easier to release staff for this sort of fact finding adventure! I know I am lucky to have a headteacher that supports me attending this each year, although I am not so convinced he thinks he is that lucky when I return with my wish list!
BETT is immense and there is so much there that you could buy to enhance your teaching and learning, improve your working environment, organise your admin etc. Then there are the speakers, many and varied across the arena and for me many of the talks I would have seen were on at times I wasn’t there! It is a shame that these can’t be made available following the event to be streamed at leisure, as there are often so many great ideas here by practitioners and personally that is often better than a sales pitch.
This year however I didn’t feel particularly inspired by the technology on show with lots of robots and coding activities for primary schools, which may be a good way to get computing into the English primary curriculum but for Wales, the focus is on ICT and Digital Competency not computing as a stand alone, and even less for my KS3 curriculum with single hours and fixed computers in an ICT suite as many of us still have. I also question the value of this, don’t students still need those core user skills across a range of devices as after all, most of them will be in a workplace with “traditional” ICT provision. I agree that coding has a place and needs to be taught in our 21st Century world but not at the detriment of other generic skills.
Microsoft and Google as usual had excellent and huge stands with some really practical sessions for CPD, this is where I spent a large part of my time, listening to speakers and watching demonstrations of the software out there for schools - and through the Hwb Platform in Wales, free for all teachers and students! I would love this style of stand to become the norm, real CPD opportunities for teachers, who often come without a specific budget or purchase order number but are curious and excited to see what is available.
I also spent some time wandering the Futures area and it was great to see some of the small start ups around with some really practical solutions to everyday issues in education. This is another great place to spend time and chat to those with the ideas, they welcome feedback from practitioners so they can refine and market their products.
What about the gender gap?
The world of EdTech is still male dominated from the sales reps, to the technical staff, however there is an increasing number of women on stands, giving talks and creating products which is great to see.
“BETT needs to think about its representation of both genders and take some responsibility for the image it subliminally portrays to the students visiting the arena.”
How do you know what you can be if you have never seen anyone “like you” in a whole range of jobs? Or constantly see people “unlike you” in jobs you are interested in?
Will the focus on computing in Englands schools change this? As it stands I don’t think so, we need to teach user skills, we need to demonstrate that digital technology is accessible to all and covers a much wider range of skills than computing - what about creative media, animation, graphics, music technology, live streaming, vlogging, administration, big data handling, analysts … and that is before we even look at more traditional jobs which make increasing use of technology and our own personal, home use.
The way to close the gender gap is, in my opinion, to open up our students eyes to the whole range of applications for digital skills in school.
I am hopeful in Wales, with our emphasis on Digital Competencies rather than a pure computing focus, or an old school ICT focus, we will be able to introduce our students to a broad range of experiences and opportunities so that they can see some of the potential that is out there for them as they consider next steps and careers. I am also really pleased to be part of GECFutures and to play a small part in helping to open up a world of potential for young people and support our teachers to do that in the classroom in a really effective and engaging way.