Tie-in between CGI and Glasgow City Council sees world’s biggest roll-out of tablets in education 

THERE is nothing more valuable to a bright future than learning, but in the formal education setting, the methods change with every generation. From slates and chalk on wooden desks with inkwells, to lined jotters and blackboard, we are now embracing all the technology so familiar to this generation of schoolchildren.

The rollout of a learning support tool has begun at St Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Glasgow, with devices eventually being used by all pupils and their teachers. 

The tablets are just one part of a much bigger connected learning strategy, to use technology as a tool in modernising the classroom experience.

Connected learning is just one stream of CGI’s seven-year deal with Glasgow City Council to transform IT across many of its services, including libraries, health and social care, software development training for jobseekers, connectivity, and tackling the digital divide by equipping social enterprises. “What the project does is democratise learning,” says CGI Vice President Lindsay McGranaghan. 

“It creates a level playing field where every pupil has access to the same valuable digital learning tools.”

As with all technology, the tablet is simply a device. For teachers, it allows them to access the carefully designed educational apps and monitor the progress of every pupil more easily, tailoring learning to the needs of each one.

Although the devices can be taken home, the tablets are tracked and have a secure firewall, which means pupils cannot access certain parts of the internet. 

In the classroom, teachers have control and can freeze and interact with a pupil’s screen at any point. Digital security and online safety are prime considerations – if a device is lost or stolen it will be rendered useless. At home, parents can see homework requirements and have opportunities to develop their own digital skills.  

“This programme has only been introduced with a huge amount of preparation,” says Councillor Chris Cunningham, Convener for Education, Skills and Early Years at Glasgow City Council. 

“Teachers have been working with the tablets for some time, working out how to get the best of the teaching apps and how the devices will work best in the classroom. It has been thoroughly thought through.”

The project will provide 52,000 devices for Glasgow schools, 4,900 for teachers and 47,100 for pupils. 

That means a tablet for every student from P6 to S6 and one for every five in P1 to P5.

“We are focused on bridging the poverty-related attainment gap,” adds Councillor Cunningham. 

“We want to make sure that all of our pupil and teachers have access to the best means and methods of learning. 

“I’m not saying that tablets per se will bridge that gap but in working towards that, providing teachers with the best method of levelling the playing field in terms of access to IT fits into the overall strategy.”

Those who have seen the one to one teaching practice in person have gone from having questions about how it works to being excited about the potential of opening the world up to pupils through augmented reality where, for example, they can step on to the Great Wall of China and look around.

“The tablet is simply a tool,” says Andrew Jewell, an independent learning consultant who works with firms such as CGI and XMA. 

“I am looking forward to seeing the difference that it makes when combined with top quality professional development and a holistic approach to teaching and learning. 

“The whole project focuses on connected learning, not on the distribution of devices. They are the tip of the iceberg in what can be achieved.”

Working on the frontline, Barry Quinn, deputy head at St Thomas Aquinas, can see the opportunities that the project brings, with every child having equal access to technology and to develop the skills that they are going to need in the future. 

“We know that many children already have phones and have access to so much information, but what they’ve been used for is social media and fun. What this does is make learning relevant – I can see that the tablets offer them all the chance to have a high-quality experience, but with real purpose behind it.”

With tech practically ubiquitous in today’s workplace, pupils need to be prepared for the future where it will be part of whatever career path they choose.

“There is no doubt that empowered learning will help equip students with digital skills for future employment,” adds Ms McGranaghan. “This attainment is at the heart of CGI’s collaboration with Glasgow City Council on the biggest tablet deployment in education, anywhere in the world.”