NGfL CEO: “I’m not a viola that shrinks in terms of risk”

It was a good year for the edtech charity National (formerly London) grid for learning. It won double to both WAGER in March and the Education Resources Awards (ERA) in May.

CEO John Jackson received an ERA Outstanding Achievement Award for his work in helping schools adopt new technologies and save money, and for his dedication to protecting children, addressing inequalities, stimulating teaching and learning. learning and promoting well-being.

The trust became a kind of lifeboat for many schools during the pandemic. In the first few weeks, John decided to buy two million Chromebooks and WinBooks and take them to schools at reduced prices.

He explains how it happened: “Laptops weren’t part of our core business, but at the beginning of Covid people called me saying, ‘We can’t afford this kit, we have to close school, the kids have’ They don’t have access to home because they just don’t have the money – can you help us? ‘”.

This was a time when there was a worldwide rush for devices as students and employees came home for the block, which drove costs up and consumed inventory. LGfL’s national procurement campaign ensured that disadvantaged pupils and families in disadvantaged areas also had access to incredibly needed technology.

“No one else was crazy enough to go out for two million devices without a single check,” says John. “I said I was going to buy them and at first everyone laughed; then they realized that I was terribly serious, and then they accepted.

“I’m not a viola that shrinks in terms of risk,” he adds.

LGfL made its content remotely accessible to any school in the country, completely free of charge, which included cloud technology and filtered internet connection. He also supported 2020 Edtech demonstration program which was developed by the Department of Education (DfE) and has provided free peer-to-peer technology advice between schools and has become a vital support system over the past two years.

What drove John was his positioning of the pandemic as an opportunity and his mantra that LGfL and schools would “come out stronger, technologically, than when they entered the crisis”.

For someone else to cite “community spirit” as the underlying reason for their work ethic, it might seem like a cliché. But John is genuinely, genuinely, optimistic about the education sector. “This is why I am involved in education. I feel privileged to work with teachers and schools, because there is so much good, so much positivity there. “

He hopes to celebrate this, and the “legends of learning”, at the upcoming LGfL conference in July, which will attract hundreds of attendees from network schools. “I think the teachers did a miraculous thing to get all of this under control, you know, to a great extent, and to help families and communities through it. And I think, I think it’s important, we recognize it, you know it, and let’s celebrate. “

Looking ahead John wants to see the UK edtech industry take over, citing “cool stuff” like Pobble, a platform for teachers to easily share lesson ideas and resources, and LGfL’s partnership with Ohbot’s. Robot Pico that children can program to talk and do homework.

It also mentions companies that are making great strides with assistive technology, such as Robot AV1 which allows children to stay connected with classmates during long-term absences. LGfL has long been an advocate of augmented virtual reality, and John speaks with an infectious passion about the possibilities of virtual reality in the classroom: bringing history lessons to life in a brand new way, helping kids see the world without leaving their desk, and show them a different side of learning.

While John is focused on progression, he knows that a key part of moving forward is developing resilient technology designed not only for capability, but also for reliability, for years to come. Schools cannot afford to shut down their systems every time they install new platforms, move to the cloud, or move to multi-gig.

He says it is the job of technology to track and facilitate changes in society: “Technology is really about enabling fundamental change. So it’s actually the change that you really have to think about and the technology comes in the wake of the change if you want to. “

“This is a marathon, not a sprint. One of the things I noticed coming out of Covid is that the energy levels have dropped. I think you have to have a mindset that you will stick to.

“You cannot ignore the challenges of the teaching profession to gain confidence, remain confident that you are leveraging technology and how to use it in classroom practice. I think there is a way to go.

“We need to make sure we properly assess the impacts of the technology. I think there is a lot of work to be done on digital strategy and toolkits that allow schools to fit everything together: financial planning, teacher training, changes in work practices, headspace to make changes to the curriculum and manage risks “.

Fast innovation has other problems. Some are starting to notice the problems that come with having a tech industry that essentially is not regulated. One major company raises its prices and the rest must follow suit to have any chance of staying on the market; a new social platform prides itself on open access and unmoderated content, which has a chance for children to come across extremist views and explicit imagery.

John points out that the blinding pace of technological innovation is a major challenge for the government, whose legislation and processes simply can’t keep up. If left unaddressed, there could be troubling financial, social and safeguarding implications from this discrepancy.

This bothers him: “What you should have in an economy is regulation of things that have a significant impact on your economy, or your society, or have a potentially dysfunctional market. Because if you don’t, if you have important things, but you have very little [regulation], it’s kind of like the Wild West. The consequences will ultimately be difficult and negative ”.

He says that finding a solution is “damn complicated”, but that “it’s a question we should ask ourselves: how can we do it better?”

John Jackson and co. have supported teaching staff, school bodies, pupils and families over a particularly difficult couple of years and it seems they are now ready to take the industry to new heights: digital equality, online safety, virtual reality, robots and everything in between .

Header Image Credit: Justin Thomas

Read more: £ 10 million program to help Open University bridge the skills gap

NGfL CEO: “I’m not a viola that shrinks in terms of risk”

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