31st Mar 2020

A technology revolution at school

  • Essa Academy - the school has attracted national and international interest for it technological revolution (Photo: EG Focus)

When Abdul Chohan was young, his parents refused to send him to Hayward school in Bolton, a town in northern England. It was a school considered to be going nowhere, a place where the failing education was matched by shabby buildings.

Now Chohan is a director at that same school. And Essa Academy, as it is now called, has achieved a different kind of fame, both locally and nationally. The buzz surrounds the extraordinary turnaround in pupils' grades - up from a 28 percent pass rate a few years ago to 100 percent pass rate last year.

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The reason for the change, says Chohan, is use of new technology in the class room. In 2009, Showkat Badat, head teacher at Essa, asked Chohan to have a "fresh think" about the interaction between technology and teaching. At that point, they were relying on laptop trolleys, expensive in cost and in the time it took to sign out the trolley and get the pupils logged on.

"I wiped the slate clean. I asked myself the question: if I wanted to create a learning environment today, what technology would I put in the school if I wasn’t influenced by traditional technology," Chohan told this website.

The solution he arrived at involved giving all 900 pupils, aged 11-16, an iPod Touch and all teachers an iPad tablet.

"The answer to my question was something that would fit in my hand; something that I would use; that was mobile; and that I could access straight away."

Chohan, who used to teach chemistry but now deals solely with looking at how education methods can be improved, says the way the students learn has been completely changed.

Instead of a "teacher-led" process where "children come into classroom, teacher gives information, teacher measures how student has memorised the information", the system is much more fluid.

Now the teacher prepares a lesson the day before, presses create and it immediately pops up on all the students tablets - they recently moved to iPads from iPod touches.

The students can then watch or read the content of the lesson before it is given in the classroom "so there is already some idea of the learning that is about to happen."

Meanwhile teachers use apps, videos and YouTube to explain their lessons. Whatever they use on their own iPad comes up on a big TV screen at the front of the classroom so everyone can see it.

This connectedness means the learning does not stop in the class room. Kids can email their teachers questions. Teachers have found shy students have benefitted enormously from being able to email questions.

Students still coming to grips with English - the school's pupils speak about 40 languages between them - also like the change. Unfamiliar words can be looked up immediately. More broadly, students have become more creative in looking for answers online, presenting solutions or raising other questions.

While the grades are "fantastically brilliant" - they helped the school secure funds to build new facilities - there are other practical benefits too, says Chohan.

The school's printing and photocopying costs have tumbled and it no longer buys text books but apps, which are a one-off cost and easy to update.

But the most important issue for Chohan is equipping children with a capacity to learn and adapt beyond the next test.

"This isn’t the future. This is now. It’s no big deal for the kids. They’re already using that stuff. Twenty-first century learning means you have to think beyond exams."

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