Disadvantaged Students

The phrase "Disadvantage Students" come up frequently in the EdTech space, what are the characteristics of such students? An exploration to understand this group of students who will be severely affected due to the digital divide. Also, what development is made in the EdTech space that looks to capture their experience of the Education system, to find solutions that will help them excel in a revamped Education system that is technology-led?

The label "Disadvantaged Students." shapes students perspective on how their current environment view them. As a Designer, my role is to create a product or service that enable people to achieve their potential regardless of personal inabilities. The current education system needs to adopt this approach, providing students irrespective of their background or ability, the path to extraordinary achievement.

Late in September UCAS published a report that "more students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds across the UK are set to start degrees this autumn" amidst all the debacle earlier in the summer due to exam results grading. The resilience from students to push through barriers that are placed in front of them are commendable. Educators and policymakers need innovative solutions that are tailored towards each student needs to try and make their education journey more rewarding and fulfilling.

According to RAND "disadvantaged students are those whose Family, Social or Economic circumstance hinder their ability to learn at school. Other characteristics associated with disadvantages students are factors such as Ethnic background, Gender or Geographical location. Even within the UK, there has been some research that coastal towns are underperforming which insinuates a North-South divide, with schools in the south performing better. Research by Dr Becky Allen of the Education Datalab. Shows that when contextual variables are taken into account, the North-South divide vanishes.

All the factors listed above are areas that can be tackled through System Design; the issues surrounding the current Education system is multifaceted. The recent reforms seem to focus on a small niche of students. The focus on STEM subjects allows students to gain valuable skills that can help them gain employment beyond school, which currently is an unfulfilled promised. This focus on STEM comes at the expense of neglecting students who will benefit from an Arts and Design curriculum.

The UK Education system needs to be less focused on learning about science and technology, and more on the science and technology of learning. There is a lot of research on how people learn effectively, and school profoundly violates that. If students are not treated as individual learners, there will always be disadvantaged students.

The future of Education is technology-led. All the factors identified that creates unequal learning experience are all opportunity for a company to develop an innovative product or service to enrich students learning experience.

In 2019 Nesta announced a partnership with Department for Education to fund innovative Educational Technology. Due to the current pandemic, the focus has shifted to find ways to support disadvantaged students, especially with remote learning.

The main areas Nesta are looking to explore are; Teacher assessment, Essay marking, Parental engagement and Timetabling. This support the DfE Education Technology Strategy. In an earlier report by Nesta, "Educ-AI-tion rebooted?." Three potential areas that AI can be used in Education "learner-facing (e.g. adaptive learning platforms), teacher-facing (e.g. automated assessment tools, or advanced teacher dashboards) and system-facing (e.g. analysing data from across schools to predict school inspection performance)."

My concern is that they have neglected the "Learner-facing" aspect and focused on the other two areas. Let's think about the primary stakeholder in Education, which are students. From my earlier research (check out "Softskill are the future of UK education" where I address future teachers new role), while creating tools to help teachers and Education system to function more efficiently is essential. However, this should come second to funding EdTech tools that will provide students with personalised learning if we want to create that equal Learning field.

Suppose the role of Education is to prepare students for the real world. In that case, it needs first to implement a strategy that simulates the real world but within a controlled environment that enables students of all abilities to learn through discovery, collaboration and practice.

If there is a standardised test, there will always be disadvantaged students because there's no standardised way to measure intelligence. "How learning happens and what learning happens is different for different people. People learn by experience, but no two people share the same experience". Education reformers need to embrace EdTech, especially with the interconnected nature of the 21st century due to the internet, and let go of the belief that learning is solitary. The ability to combine knowledge with skills to achieve your dream in a real-life context which relies heavily on teamwork and collaboration, which are all Softskills. Is the real definition of learning, when placed in an Education context.

One of the companies I will monitor that I believe have a bright future will be Learning with Parents which is one of the companies Nesta has pattered with for their EdTech R&D program. The concept pf getting parent more involved with their children learning is something that will make a substantial difference in any child's life. But they need to try and avoid breaking down learning into subjects, the idea of chronological or Learning the basic is outdated.