New technologies can save teaching, if we let them

Students at school using computer

Several recent reports have cast a spotlight on the workload crisis facing educators and administrators in schools.

The Australian Education Union’s (AEU) 2016 State Of Our Schools Survey polled over 9,000 respondents around the country. Released in March, the findings reveal a vast and rising administrative burden on teachers and school staff, including work previously done by education departments.

AEU deputy federal president Maurie Mulhero told the media: “We’re hearing from principals that they’re doing too much of the administrational, clerical, business side of things, which is taking them away from the important teaching and learning.”

Principals are also finding it harder to fill vacancies. Mounting expectations on educators to fulfil more administrative duties, and the overall increase in paperwork for both teachers and administrators is a driving factor in the struggle to attract and retain talent.

Teacher working with student

The picture is all too similar in the UK, where Education Secretary Nicky Morgan called for less pressure on teachers to spend precious time completing administrative tasks.

Meanwhile a recent survey by The Guardian suggests teachers across England are at “crisis point”, with nearly half planning to leave the profession unless things change. The survey found 98% of teachers are under increasing pressure, with 82% describing their workload as “unmanageable”.

More than three-quarters find themselves working between 49 and 65 hours a week. Unsurprisingly 73% reported that their workload is impacting their physical health and 75% say their mental health is taking a hit.

“I just want to do what I love without all the red tape and stress,” one educator told The Guardian.

Technology needs to step up and educators with vision need to meet innovators at the table.

Read more: Technology can bring wellness to schools

Earlier this year John Roberts, Chief Executive of Edapt and ed-tech entrepreneur, authored a timely report on the role of technology in reducing teacher workload and improving the education ecosystem overall.

He questions why education has been left on the sidelines of the data, technology and innovation revolution, leaving “many teachers still being required to duplicate manual data entry.”

Roberts points out that while decision makers are genuinely concerned with investing in technology, that investment is often surface level rather than truly innovative or transformative.

Critically, it rarely addresses the most acute issues facing teachers and administrators.

Download Roberts’ full report

Reducing the need for data input, and creating ways of managing administrative tasks efficiently at scale are central to the holistic reform Roberts advocates.

The graph below from his report shows the percentage of educators investing time into unproductive data related tasks.

datatasksgraph

Respondents of the UK Department for Education’s Workload Challenge survey (which tapped over 43,000 teachers) ranked ‘recording, inputting, monitoring and analysing data’ the single biggest pain point for workload (56%). Additional administrative and support tasks were a problem for 37% of educators surveyed.

Educators, school administrators and parents recognise that much of this work has value or importance for themselves and students. But the ways the work happens are lacklustre at best, archaic at worst. Old, incompatible and labor intensive systems are still being used to capture data, and systems that don’t integrate or talk to one another mean that duplication is rife. Automation is a rarity and systems that leverage the power of teacher and parent insights rarer still.

Time for change

Across countries, governments and different social landscapes, the vice of administrative workload is a unifying thread for educators, obstructing the potential of the sector in an era that should be freeing them like none before.

The data is stacking up and it seems the tide may finally be starting to turn. Technology can dramatically lighten the load for teachers and administrators under pressure, and can transform morale across the sector. But the problem needs to be tackled holistically.

Training staff in social media, buying a round of iPads, or investing in an occasional platform upgrade won’t suffice. Apply innovation to help relieve systemic problems, and you’ll build for the ages.

Images: neccorp, Wonderland/Creative Commons. ‘Can technology reduce workload in schools’, John Roberts.

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