Michael Gove at the Royal Society

Jul 02, 2011

Miles Berry

A speech from the Secretary of State at the Royal Society on Wednesday gave the clearest statement yet on the Department’s policy in relation to IT in education. Here’s the relevant section, which is probably more positive than many had been expecting:

“Harnessing technology in the classroom

In addition to the debate over what is taught, and the issue of who does the teaching, we also need to think about how the teaching takes place. So as well as reviewing our curriculum and strengthening our workforce, we need to look at the way the very technological innovations we are racing to keep up with can help us along the way. We need to change curricula, tests and teaching to keep up with technology, and technology itself is changing curricula, tests, and teaching.

ItunesU now gives everybody with an internet connection access to the world’s best educational content. Innovations such as the Khan Academy are putting high quality lessons on the web. Extremely cheap digital cameras and the prevalence of the internet allow teachers to share best practice and learn from errors. Brilliant scientific publications such as Science are building their own ecosystems of educational content – resources that a central Government department could never hope to produce and maintain.

Computer games developed by Marcus Du Sautoy are enabling children to engage with complex mathematical problems that would hitherto have been thought too advanced. When children need to solve equations in order to get more ammo to shoot the aliens, it is amazing how quickly they can learn. I am sure that this field of educational games has huge potential for maths and science teaching and I know that Marcus himself has been thinking about how he might be able to create games to introduce advanced concepts, such as non-Euclidean geometry, to children at a much earlier stage than normal in schools.

The Department for Education is working with the Li Ka Shing Foundation and the highly respected Stanford Research Institute on a pilot programme to use computer programmes to teach maths. We have not developed the programme – we are just helping them run a pilot. Stanford say it is one of the most successful educational projects they have seen.

These developments are only beginning. They must develop on the ground – Whitehall must enable these innovations but not seek to micromanage them. The new environment of teaching schools will be a fertile ecosystem for experimenting and spreading successful ideas rapidly through the system.”

The iTunesU and Khan Academy references situate this in the content delivery approach to e-learning. Du Sautoy’s maths games are quite behaviourist in style and you’ll note that the Li Ka Shing / Stanford project is about teaching maths, not learning it. That said, I think there’s some cause for a little optimism here.