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Tech widens the educational divide. And I should know – I’m a teacher in a pandemic • The Register

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Register Debate Welcome to the latest Register Debate in which writers discuss technology topics, and you – the reader – choose the winning argument. The format is simple: we propose a motion, the arguments for the motion will run this Monday and Wednesday, and the arguments against on Tuesday and Thursday. During the week you can cast your vote on which side you support using the poll embedded below, choosing whether you’re in favour or against the motion. The final score will be announced on Friday, revealing whether the for or against argument was most popular.

It’s up to our writers to convince you to vote for their side.

This week’s motion is: Technology widens the education divide. And now today, arguing FOR the motion is ROWAN CULLEN, who recently qualified as a secondary school teacher.

I am going to put it out there: hybrid learning sucks. Let me tell you why I have come to this conclusion, which is based on my experience as a trainee geography teacher, now qualified, in the pandemic at a huge co-ed secondary school in southeast England.

First, a little about the school, which has almost 2,000 students aged 11 to 18, who come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. This is jargon for: there are a lot of children from poor families. And how poor, we found out when lockdown learning and hybrid education became a thing.

At the start of the 2020 academic year, teachers had to create Home Learning Packs and online lessons in the anticipation that students would be self-isolating, in addition to in-person teaching at school. The Home Learning Packs were created for students without access to the internet. Planning three varieties of the same lesson, according to the personal circumstance of the student, is an example of ‘hybrid’ learning in action. It is also a waste of everyone’s time.

During partial school closures, when there was yet another COVID-19 outbreak, only the most eager kids completed the online lessons. Even fewer kids handed in the home packs – in fact I don’t recall getting the opportunity to mark a single example of the packs I distributed to dozens of children. But to be clear, this is not the students’ fault. And it wasn’t the school’s fault either.

Most students without internet would return to school with multiple unopened envelopes whilst most students with internet would return with some idea of what was happening in school.

COVID-19 forced hybrid learning onto our school. But inequality, and funding problems over lack of laptops for students, are not the only reasons why it sucks. Teaching online is like talking to a brick wall that occasionally types, “it’s coming home!” during the Euro championship. Nothing beats supporting students with face-to-face education and unfortunately pupils with special educational needs (often from poorer families) got lost without it.

When hundreds of laptops were distributed around my school in January 2021, belatedly filling the technology gap, my colleagues collectively sighed in relief at the prospect of a slight reduction in workload (no more home packs) and the possibility of their most vulnerable students catching up to their peers. However, during the lockdown that “cancelled Christmas,” key-worker and vulnerable children, rightly, remained in school whilst their classmates were learning from home.

Stay with me here, as the logistics were a bit mad. A teacher would go into school and be supporting a class of vulnerable and key-worker children. They would beam a different teacher onto the board where the teacher at home would deliver a lesson. This sometimes meant that I would beam another geography teacher to deliver a lesson from home to a class of students they didn’t know. As you can imagine, this was carnage. Again, can we blame students for not wanting to sit at their desks all day having unengaging lessons thrown at them through a screen?

When teachers weren’t delivering lockdown lessons to students who were still actually in school, we would hold online lessons to those who were at home on their new laptops. Students no longer had to complete work using their mobile phones (excellent) but often didn’t have an actual surface to put their laptop on (not excellent). If more students had their cameras on, I’m sure we would have seen a lot more students doing school work from their beds. So for a lot of students, what came first was the laptop, not the desk, or adequate broadband, or personal use of their new laptops, or motivation, and so on.

These will still be problems long after the pandemic has faded.

It is not a surprise to me that privately educated and grammar school kids were more likely to receive top grades in this year’s exams. These schools didn’t have to navigate the impossibilities of educating some kids one way, some another, and the rest not at all. What is most important, however, is how our students are going to cope with being back in the classroom. That is when the true effects of digital exclusion will become apparent.

I urge you to vote for the motion. ®

Cast your vote below. We’ll close the poll on Thursday night and publish the final result on Friday. You can track the debate’s progress here.

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Irish payroll tech company BrightPay merges with UK’s Relate

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The two companies will get funding from investor Hg to hire more employees and innovate new technologies across Ireland and the UK.

Irish payroll management tech company BrightPay has announced a merger with London-based accounting software company Relate Software in a bid to integrate services for SMEs across the two islands.

Based in Co Meath, BrightPay has been operating in Ireland for more than 25 years and employs more than 70 people in the country. It provides payroll software services to more than 330,000 employers in Ireland and the UK.

Upon merging, BrightPay CEO Paul Byrne and Relate co-founder and CEO Ray Rogers will remain investors and become co-CEOs of the new entity. The other co-founders of each company will also continue to invest in the new business and develop products.

Byrne said that Relate’s track record in the sector will help them become the leading service for many businesses and accountancy firms.

Private equity investor Hg, which focuses on software and service businesses in Europe and North America, will become the majority investor in the combined business. “Their deep sector knowledge has proven invaluable to us and will be instrumental in fuelling the further growth of BrightPay/Relate,” Byrne added.

New hires and technologies

The merger will benefit from the combination of BrightPay’s expertise in payroll software with Relate’s experience in accountancy management tech. Together with Hg, the new business will invest in new technologies such as cloud and automation to improve their services.

Rogers, founder and CEO of Relate, said: “Combining products from both businesses will provide a compelling offering for our customers, with the scope and backing for further innovation and development.

“I’m looking forward to working with Paul and am also excited to welcome Hg, a leading software investor with a track record of supporting growth in Irish software businesses.”

While details of the transactions have not been disclosed, the combined business will have more than 190 employees with plans to hire more people across Ireland and the UK.

“Both BrightPay and Relate are very highly regarded businesses and champions in their field,” said Jonathan Boyes, Hector Guinness and Thomas Martin of Hg in a joint statement. “The two companies bring together core operational strengths whilst also unlocking a high-quality, complementary suite of products to a newly combined customer base.”

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New UK broadband rules will make it easier to switch supplier | Broadband

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The UK media regulator, Ofcom, has introduced a new service to make it easier for customers to switch broadband supplier to get a better deal.

Ofcom hopes the new process, One Touch Switch, will encourage people to seek out better deals after research found that more than two-fifths of people were put off switching broadband suppliers because of the hassle.

People can already switch between providers that use Openreach’s broadband network – such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk – through a process requiring a customer to only contact their new supplier.

However, until now customers looking to change networks or technologies – such as between Virgin Media’s network and a provider on Openreach or other smaller networks such as Hyperoptic or CityFibre – had to deal with both the new and old supplier simultaneously.

Ofcom research found that a quarter of customers making such a switch faced attempts by their provider to stop them. The One Touch Switch process aims to eliminate these issues, including customers having to sort out the end and start dates of their old and new services.

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“Household finances are strained at the moment, so switching broadband provider could help keep your bills down,” said Lindsey Fussell, the network and communications group director at Ofcom. “We’re making it as easy as possible for you to break up with your broadband provider and take advantage of the deals on offer.”

Ofcom said the new rules will also mean that suppliers will have to compensate customers if they are left without internet for more than one working day during a switch. All suppliers must introduce Ofcom’s new simplified switching process by April 2023.

The regulator has introduced a range of measures in recent years to make sure customers have access to the best deals. These include cracking down on the so-called “loyalty penalty” by which customers who stick with their broadband, mobile or pay-TV supplier are not offered the same discount deals as new customers.

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India, Japan flex cyber-defence muscles as China seethes • The Register

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India and Japan have each flexed their cyber-defence muscles in ways that China can’t miss.

Japan’s flex was the Monday launch of a national cyber-security policy that for the first time names China, Russia, and North Korea as sources of heightened threat. The policy also calls for Japan’s Self Defence Force to increase its digital capabilities.

The new plan was released as expected under Japan’s policy of refreshing its defensive plans every three years. The theme for the policy is “Cybersecurity for all” and chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato said its aim is to ensure that no part of Japanese society goes without the protections it needs.

Kato said the plan was also developed because Japan’s government “recognised a threat” and therefore a need to strengthen its online defences. The policy documents list many recent infosec incidents – such as the attack on SolarWinds and Microsoft’s Exchange flaw – as the sort of thing Japan needs to counter.

India’s flex came from vice-president M. Venkaiah Naidu, who on Monday visited a military museum and remarked that India’s security forces should “prepare themselves to dominate not only in a conventional war but also establish their superiority in the new and emerging areas of conflict such as information and cyber warfare along with the increasing use of robotics and drones in the battlefield”.

“The nation is assured that any misadventure by an adversary will be given a befitting reply by the Indian Army,” Naidu said.

While the position of vice-president is largely ceremonial – the officeholder is backup to the head of state, but actual power resides with Parliament – Naidu’s words have weight. Doubly so as he stated India faces “both symmetric and asymmetric threats from outside and within” and then asserted India’s sovereignty over Jammu & Kashmir and argued that previous arrangements that gave the territory autonomy were temporary.

Mentioning Jammu & Kashmir is significant, as the disputed India/China border is in the territory. The territory is also the subject of a dispute with Pakistan.

Kashmiri separatists, which India labels Pakistan-supported terrorists, and China, will all have noticed the veep urging India to arm itself in the kinetic and digital realms.

China has certainly noticed last week’s meeting of “The Quad” – the grouping of Australia, the USA, Japan, and India – and its announcement of plans to develop infosec standards it hopes the world will follow.

China’s foreign ministry has labelled The Quad a “closed and exclusive clique” informed by “outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality and ideological bias”.

Spokesperson Hua Chunying addressed the issue at a press conference in response to a question from Russian news agency TASS. “For some time, these countries have been keen on insinuating China with the so-called ‘rules-based order’, playing up and inciting the so-called ‘China threat’ theory, and driving a wedge between regional countries and China.”

Te actions of Japan and India actions suggest the wedge is working. ®

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