My inbox fills up with sales literature from companies promising wonderous educational returns if a small fortune is spent on the latest hardware, software, ebooks and educational apps. Some the these products yield significant educational improvements that stand up to a rigorous cost –benefit analysis, but persuasive sales staff can also seduce schools into parting with large sums for tenuous technologies or overly complex and expensive systems that are beyond their needs.
Whilst commercial companies employ sales staff to extol the virtues of their products, less is done to encourage expenditure on the one control that study after study has shown to have the largest impact on educational attainment – namely the quality of teachers.
Those countries that dominate the PISA world league tables of educational performance such as Finland and Singapore , do so in part because they employ very well qualified and committed teachers. In a chicken and egg situation, these are the countries where teaching is a highly respected position and as such attracts the best graduates who go on to teach to a high standard thus reinforcing the status of teachers and securing future teacher recruitment. The old maxim “If you can do, if you can’t teach” is most certainly not true of Singapore and Finland.
Teachers shape the future, a future we all will depend on as the children of today become the workforce of tomorrow paying taxes to support the welfare state and shaping the morality of life in the mid twenty first century. We need to encourage the very best graduates into teaching, people who combine subject expertise with communications skills, extracurricular interests, and pastoral qualities; high achievers who will inspire others to do likewise whether in the classroom or through music, sport, drama and the arts.
With the onset of higher university tuition fees, there is a real danger that high flying graduates with predicted average debts of £50,000 will decide that if they want to buy a house and start a family before 40 they can’t afford to be a teacher. (Teachers as modestly paid professionals are likely to fall into a debt trap; earning enough to start repaying student loans but not enough to clear them in the foreseeable future.)
This would be a tragedy and one that no amount of expenditure on the latest educational technology will solve. Indeed good technology without good teachers is a wasted investment. New technologies can revolutionise teaching providing a myriad of opportunities for personalised learning, creativity, collaboration and independent research. However, it requires good teachers to apply technology effectively for learning gains to be realised. Without the skilled eye of a good teacher collaborative on-line projects can be dominated by a few
individuals, creative animations can take so long to construct they compromise subject learning, and students following personalised programmes can opt for easy routes that limit achievement. And then there are all the pitfalls and distractions of internet research……
Good technology does not deliver good learning; only a good teacher does. But appropriate technology used effectively can make a good teacher even better.