Shaun Allen became a teacher for one simple reason, “to make a positive change in children’s lives in order to influence them to become good human beings.” To achieve this, he strives to get to know all his students and their families on a personal level.
Allen has been a teacher for over four years, and at Tittensor First School, Staffordshire, he has made an effort to become a positive role model for children in the community.
But due to the COVID-19 lockdown and social distancing restrictions, schools had to undergo huge changes in its way of teaching. Allen has struggled to fully engage with his students.
“Not being a teacher in the classroom has been the hardest part of lockdown for me,” Allen told Xinhua.
For Allen, online lessons just don’t quite bring about the same level of engagement as lessons in person do.
He’s not alone, many teachers who submitted their thoughts anonymously to Durham University’s “Teachers’ wellbeing and workload during COVID-19 lockdown” (June 2020) survey, said that they felt frustrated or unfulfilled through teaching online.
TEACHING ONLINE NOT WELL-PREPARED
“Working from a laptop is not only physically difficult, but feels unrewarding,” one teacher stated in the survey.
“A lot can be learnt and understood from a student’s body language which is not possible in online teaching. Connectivity is missing totally. Every student has just become a number and a name in cyberspace,” said another.
Many opinions appeared to echo the thoughts of Allen, but according to Dr Beng Huat See, an associate professor at Durham University and author of the survey, the issue may not be technology itself but the type of technology currently available to schools.
In the report, only 44 percent of teachers felt adequately provided for online teaching.
“I’ve written research and done videos on the use of education technology. Most of the time, they don’t work. Some of them have negative effects on children. We need to be careful. We need to get this technology tested robustly first,” she said.
The survey findings showed that schools and teachers were not well-prepared for the transition to delivering lessons remotely.
She stated that this was to be expected, with such a sudden and unexpected lockdown — and that the results weren’t just unique to England, but all over the world.
“There is an urgent need to see what kind of education technology, what kinds of apps or software are useful and safe for children to use. There needs to be a proper evaluation of technology before schools use them — we can’t just give them out willy-nilly, schools are desperate for tech and they will use whatever is available,” she said.
The survey recorded the answers of over 3,400 teachers across Britain, and 66 percent of them reported having very little or no previous experience in online teaching.
Only a third said they felt confident to any extent in using education technology to deliver lessons online.
Dr See believes that there should be a greater push to include more technology in teacher training.
“I think people have to sit down, and think how are we going to do this systematically on a large scale? I think it also has implications for teacher training and teacher development,” she said.
MAKING EDUCATION TECH AVAILABLE FOR ALL
The sudden adoption of online teaching from home may have taken many by surprise, and the report found that there was a greater concern for schools based in poorer communities where access to online resources, or even the internet, from home was not possible.
“Years and years ago, we were talking about equipping schools and poor children with internet access and devices. It’s not something new,” said Dr See.
From the findings, it does appear that this digital divide and the widening of the attainment gap between rich and poor children have not been closed.
Within the survey, many teachers called for increased government investments in technological infrastructure, internet connectivity and funding in schools to support the provision of digital devices for disadvantaged children.
Although the government announced a centralized package to support some of these children, provision of laptops and tablets as well as internet access was prioritised for children in care, children with a social worker and disadvantaged children in Year 10, and this only came a month into the lockdown.
The Office for National Statistics survey data published in 2019 stated that around 60,000 children aged 11 to 18 in Britain do not have internet connectivity in their home, and around 700,000 do not have a computer, laptop, tablet or iPad at home.
These children have so far not been able to benefit from online lessons or resources, instead teachers have gone out of their way to try to provide lesson packages that the children can use without having to be online.
APPETITE FOR TECHNOLOGY
Despite over half of teachers (54 percent) finding online teaching stressful, there were some who said that they had enjoyed the opportunity to develop their technology skills.
“They were positive about it. They said it was a steep learning curb but that they were learning new things. Some even said they had better interactions with older children, they didn’t have interruptions,” Dr See said.
She believes that this survey will help to advise on educational policy changes in the future, and hopefully show the government that there needs to be a critical evaluation of the use of, and access to, technology in the British education system.
“We always think that children don’t have access to these devices, but the survey showed that teachers don’t have the technology at home,” she said.
To help develop a safe and secure education technology system in Britain, she is calling on the government to consider commissioning independent robust evaluations of the impact of potential resources and platforms used for remote teaching before they become widely-adopted.