Mainstreaming innovation through teacher training

“When it comes to education, we simply can’t afford not to embrace the opportunities afforded by developments in technology," affirmed Lord Puttnam, Chancellor of the Open University and world renowned film producer, in his keynote address at the European Schoolnet EMINENT conference in Genoa, on 14-15 November. Lord Puttnam is a long-term advocate of education modernization in today's digital age and, at Eminent, he was most vocal about the need for Europe to invest in its teachers.

“Teachers, as the 'custodians of knowledge', have a crucial part to play in helping steer students toward the type of information that's most likely to help them develop as well-informed citizens, equipped to play the fullest possible role in this increasingly 'digital society.”

“The very idea that a teacher, any teacher, can leave a training institution in their early twenties and still be a fully effective educational presence ten years later - without refreshing their skills - is frankly a joke, and we do nobody any favours by pretending it can continue to be accepted practice - certainly not here in Europe.”

The latest trends in technology and education were a core theme at Eminent this year. Outcomes from the flagship iTEC project, currently developing future classroom scenarios, and from recent research findings on the use of ICT in schools and the attitudes of teachers and students towards ICT were explored in depth. 

Tim Pearson, former CEO of RM, a British company that develops hardware, software and services for teachers and learners also keynoted at Eminent. He explained how and why technology disruption appears to exist only outside of mainstream school education systems, explaining that the focus of ICT usage in schools is incremental as opposed to transformational. Teacher and school regulation; the exam system; curriculum requirements; the hassle of technology set up and class management explain the slow pace of school transformation, said Pearson. He related that it is “hard to build a successful business designing and selling educational technology to schools," describing the education market as a "tough business with many attempts and few real success stories." Pearson evoked the BYOD (Bring your own device) strategy, wondering whether this might enable new models, and continue the inevitable disruption that is already occurring at tertiary level through, for example, open access to online courses.

Lord Puttnam was passionate and provocative as he beseeched the European Union and national governments to "create learning environments in which informed responses to the challenges of the 21st century are encouraged and nurtured”

The advent of high-speed broadband in educational institutes, the streaming of video, plays, movies and animation and a faster, richer, more interactive and informative internet, are, for Puttnam, opportunities to be explored and harnessed. 

“What is required is not only a well thought through and continuing policy of investment, but also a vision, a vision that's sufficiently coherent to ensure that policies [...] are robust enough to keep pace with digital developments in other technologically advanced nations.”

“With a coherent vision for learning in the 21st century, with the support of both the European Union and our national governments, I believe that we can dig ourselves out of the financial mess we are in and, in doing so, create the type of vibrant and confident knowledge-based societies which could genuinely become the envy of the world," said Puttnam. 

Stressing the importance of the teacher role and underlining that teacher training is crucial to ensure innovative pedagogical approaches, Puttnam continued, 

“Getting education right is far more than simply one among a number of important priorities. No education system can be better than the quality of the teachers it employs and the ever-improving standards it’s prepared to demand of them – and to reward them for. Teacher training at every level of the education system has to be viewed as an entirely non-negotiable and continuing process, most especially in this incredibly fast-moving digital age."

"The commitment of politicians and educational leaders to the best possible quality of teacher training, along with regular, preferably annual paid time-out for professional development, must be absolute.”

European Schoolnet's Eminent conference is now in its 12th year. Addressing 150 ministers, business leaders and education decision-makers from across the European Community Union and beyond, it is a tier one event for the education sector.