How is consumer technology making an impact on important global fields? We're on a mission to find out, and today it's time to go back to school...

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Remember scrawling page upon page of handwritten doodles at school? Remember passing notes from desk to desk? Well, in 2016, swapping notes is taking on a new meaning in schools around the country, and it’s all thanks to smart new ways in which tablets and screens are bringing education to life.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Vodafone Foundation this year, whose Connecting for Good programme has been using technology to make a difference in the world for the last quarter of a century, we’re running a series here on Vodafone Social on how every day consumer technology is intersecting with world-changing fields. Today we’re chatting to the ‘Microsoft in Education’ lead at Ark Swift, Ark Bentworth, and Ark Conway schools, Jose Davis, about the way in which access to technology is enriching the way children learn…

Field trips 2.0

This year alone, thousands of students at UK primary schools have visited London Zoo, enjoyed a spot of deep sea diving and ducked across to South America to learn more about dolphins. It’s all in a day’s work for Ark Primary Teacher Jose, who says consumer tech is helping to remove the classroom walls:

“When it came to Information Communication Technology (ICT) lessons in school for me, access was limited and there was never a real purpose,” Jose explains, “which was often uninspiring. Every lesson would start in the same stereotypical way, with the interactive whiteboard wheeled in on a trolley. Now we teach in an age where students have access to their own tablets in and out of school.”

Thanks to Ark’s investment in 200 tablets and multi screens in the classrooms, students in Jose’s classes now Skype with guest speakers, go on virtual field trips, and meet other classes globally from the comfort of their carpet space. And what’s most impressive is that this tech isn’t resigned to teenagers: it’s in the hands of 6 and 7 years olds.

As each student also has their own Office 365 account, they’re able to work collaboratively on documents. Children can access and complete their schoolwork at home, which is strengthening links between teachers and busy parents, while the children are increasing in confidence as they take ownership of their own learning. On top of that, kids are even teaching their parents a thing or two about effective workflow management.

“As a teacher I’m able to set the children tasks to complete, and they can tick off each one as they complete it. Teachers are then notified on our devices when the work is complete, allowing us to give instant feedback.”

That’s really cool in and of itself, but there’s much more to it than that, Jose says…

“This technology is also helping give a voice to students with special educational needs, or those to whom English is a second language. Their confidence has increased [as part of this ability to take their learning into their own hands],” Jose says, “learning experiences are enriched and the school’s attainment has greatly improved with the opportunities that using this tech has given.”

The challenges of change

Like any change, the introduction of tablet tech in the classroom hasn’t always been smooth sailing. While children will love busily swiping fish tanks to make onscreen fish move, it can be a brand new and potentially scary area for teachers – even experienced ones.

“I think some of the new technologies can cause a panic with those unfamiliar with seeing the benefit it has in the classroom,” Jose says. “So we found it helpful to create an action plan that would map out the development of using tablets in the classroom over time, because with experience comes great ideas.

“Teachers always have the children’s best interests at heart, but for technology to successfully integrate as part of a traditional curriculum, a school should collaborate on how to use it to enhance, rather than replace, standard practices. It’s not about undoing all of the excellent work already in place, but to enrich it.”

“I believe that this kind of technology will play a key part in our children’s future.”

So what lies ahead for tech in education? When Jose looks into his crystal ball he believes we’re only just scratching the surface.

“As a school you’re always progressively thinking of new ways to enhance children’s learning. I believe that this kind of technology will play a key part in our children’s future, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see it play a core role in the curriculum within the next 10 years.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” Jose adds, “but it comes with the benefit and feeling that you’re making a difference to children’s lives.”

Vodafone Foundation

Of course, it’s not just the developed world that can reap the benefit of bringing cutting edge consumer tech into the classroom. This autumn, for example, the Vodafone Foundation will launch its Instant Schools for Africa programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique and Tanzania.

With this, millions of children who currently slip through the educational net will be able to get a more traditional education, albeit with a tech twist.

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With the price of simple tablet tech now undercutting that of traditional pen and paper tools, the Instant Schools programme will see students benefit from digital learning via child-friendly tablets, laptops and projectors for teachers, and all the tools needed to allow everything to work seamlessly in places where electricity and Wi-Fi access is lacking.

To find out more, you can read all about the way Instant Schools for Africa works here.

VR in the OR… Want more on Tech for Good? Click here to find out how simple smartphone-based virtual reality is sparking a change in the way doctors are training in the UK.