As you would expect, the Bett Show was full of the latest technology innovations. Indeed, some of the most exciting developments are being made in the education sector. As schools and universities look to enrich the learning experience, there are no shortages of companies looking to capitalise on the opportunity, both established brands and emerging edtech start-up companies. Naturally, technologies like VR/AR/MR and AI were prominent at the show along with content management systems and the latest in hardware.
Microsoft, one of the key sponsors of the show, is well placed to lead the way in some of these technologies and demonstrated its Mixed Reality line-up. MR has the potential to transform the way students can learn about a range of topics and interact with the subject. Importantly, Microsoft demonstrated some use cases of the technology from helping medical students to learn about the human skull, to school field trips to places well beyond most schools’ budgets. Microsoft is partnering with a number of third parties including Lenovo and Dell EMC to help make its mixed reality devices cheaper and more accessible. Not to be outdone, Google launched a “Create Your Own” virtual reality experience where teachers and students can create their own immersive virtual experience with a 360-degree camera and the Google app. It’s also running an AR “pioneer programme”.
Other show-floor features included a demonstration on using 3D printing in classrooms, robotics and a session on the requirements for educational establishments with the impending GDPR legislation. The latter has an increased burden for the public sector and more so for education because it has data on children. With cloud-based solutions allowing teachers, students and parents’ access to information and courseware and more IoT devices finding their way into educational establishments, there was also an interesting session on the importance of good security practices.
Opening the Bett Show, Anne Milton, the Minister of State for Skills and Apprenticeships outlined how investment in new technology can help children improve their education. Whilst most observers agree that technology provides benefits for the education sector, it’s equally apparent that it’s also up to vendors and resellers to ensure that teachers are properly trained on the use of new technologies and that there is concrete evidence that these can translate into meaningful learning experiences. Fujitsu has made a move in this direction by launching a course which supports teachers in developing their own understanding of technology and its application in the workplace.
The Minister went on to say that 90% of new jobs require digital skills, so children need to grow up as more than just digital consumers but practitioners and creators. Hence, the announcement of £84m new funding over the next five years to improve the teaching of computing and increase the interest in computer science qualifications. Schemes like digital degree apprenticeships are aimed at filling the jobs that are available in industry.
Traditionally, educational budgets are under pressure. Therefore, the report released by BESA just prior to BETT, that school spending on ICT is set to rise for the first time in three years is good news. Primary schools are projected to increase expenditure equivalent to £400 per school, extending expenditure by around £7m. For secondary schools, the forecast is equally positive, increasing by around £9m. According to the report, this investment is much needed with only 33% of secondary schools and 60% of primary schools maintaining that they are sufficiently equipped with ICT infrastructure and devices.