Staying afloat in an ocean of innovation

The future of technology in education is a pertinent topic and one that plays on my mind as a head teacher. The iPad was released in the UK only in April 2010, a perfect demonstration of the fast pace of technology and how quickly these devices become part of daily life.

Our classrooms have interactive whiteboards instead of traditional blackboards  and the children may be using Chromebooks or tablets – but plenty of writing books, pencils and worksheets are always in use.

Research published earlier this month showed just over three quarters (76 percent) of children younger than five use digital electronic devices, according to the DfE survey of almost 6,000 parents.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said only recently technology is not always the “villain”, adding it can have a positive influence on children if they use gadgets to play educational games.

But he noted phones are too often an easy distraction with children choosing to access the “junk food” of the internet world – and the more time they spend glued to the latest games on their phones, the less likely they are to be getting outside for exercise.

Making technology accessible to pupils and teachers is an ongoing challenge and achieving the right balance is key.

At Sinai we have our own ICT suite, run a lunchtime coding club and have Google for education. We also set online homework using apps such as Mathletics, Bug Club and Spelling Shed, fostering digital literacy in lessons from across the curriculum.

We have entered, and won, online tournaments such as VocabExpress for French and Hebrew and Times Table Rockstars for maths. While we are forward-thinking and innovative educators, we constantly evaluate the use of technology to ensure it does indeed support and benefit teaching and learning, the very values we hold dear.

There is definitely a space for the two worlds to meet but nothing can replace holding a book, turning the pages and being transported into another world. We employ reading to create memorable learning experiences, using a book as a starting point for our writing lessons and then building learning around it to bring the story to life.

Every class from Nursery to Year 6 has a class book that is read regularly – Nursery and Reception enjoy this daily – and all children have reading books to take home. We are proud to be in the top three percent of the country for Phonics. We know improved Phonics learning leads to better reading and writing outcomes for children.

We also know that stepping away from technology is better for children’s mental health. We regularly talk about digital health and how to stay safe online but our on-site school counsellor, Elizabeth Plaskow, creates open lines of communication to encourage good mental health.

It is often hard for small children to talk about their emotions and hide behind a screen but she offers drop-in sessions, available to all our children, and there are post boxes around school for the children to write down their worries. She responds to every message and the children feel she ‘makes their worries go away’.

As the largest Jewish primary school in Europe, we are dedicated educators who fully embrace technology where it benefits education – but I am also a traditionalist who stands by the old-fashioned educational values.

I will always champion excellence for the children to achieve the very best they can. I take pride in knowing Sinai is producing future digital leaders, but I also hope there are future mathematicians, authors and musicians in the making.


About the Author
Juliette is headteacher, Sinai Jewish Primary School
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