5 minute read 10 Jun. 2020
students legs sitting down

A class of their own

By Catherine Friday

EY Global Education Leader; EY Oceania Managing Partner, Government and Health Sciences

Improving how governments work and deliver services. Mustang owner. Keen horse rider. Average but enthusiastic skier.

5 minute read 10 Jun. 2020

The COVID-19 has given schools a chance to rethink their traditional methods and shift to data-enabled teaching and learning.

As it has done in every sector of our economy and society, COVID-19 dramatically upended Australia’s schools in a few short weeks. Students moved to remote learning via devices within days. School leaders rolled out technology incredibly quickly. Exceptional efforts to address access to devices happened across the country. The rapid increase in digital competency gained by teaching and administrative staff was remarkable.

But beyond the changed learning environment, the shift proved something perhaps more profound and long-lasting: that schools can move faster and embrace change more quickly than anyone previously thought possible. It also proved that we can have a different expectation of what digital transformation can mean in practice for schools.

We believe this extraordinary period of transformation in Australia’s schools, both culturally and digitally, represents a unique chance to rapidly shift to student-centric, digital learning channels based on a student’s own aptitudes, competencies and strengths. It gives us a chance to imagine new ways of classroom delivery and analysis of student progress.

Through sophisticated learner analytics, students can work in a communal setting, enjoying all the benefits of social interaction while having teaching and learning experiences tailored to them. They can be supported through areas of the curriculum that they find challenging but also stretched by intensive teacher interaction.

Data insights and digital learning technologies also give us a chance to start addressing a real inequity in teaching and learning across the whole country. In fact, some school leaders have already seen the potential of data-driven systems. Wendy Johnson, principal at Glenunga International High School in Adelaide, has been in the vanguard of using data to improve outcomes for over a decade.

As the case study in the report makes clear, the data solution she built by adapting a powerful business data program has begun to reap the benefits.

“[The data solution] has enabled teachers to personalise their programs rather than teaching to this mythical middle,” Johnson says. “The system pulls all the data together, summarises it, shows us the comparisons and any areas that might need to be focused on. All our teachers see the benefits from doing what they normally would have done on paper. Now, it’s the technology that does the work, not our teachers.”

Johnson’s school is also developing is a ‘flightpath’ for students. “It will mean we’re able to say to students in year eight or nine: if this is what your results now look like, this is what they’re likely to translate into in terms of your Year 12 achievement. And is that what you want? And if it is what you want, then you can keep doing it. But if it’s not what you want, then what do you need to do differently?”

Uplift in long-run Australian GDP growth


if student education levels were raised to the highest international levels by age 15

Today, there is bespoke learner analytics technology that allows educators to tailor content and teaching methods, shift from point-in-time assessments like NAPLAN to realtime feedback, and move to a world in which education is adapted to each student’s individual needs. Soon, educators will be able to clearly grasp a student’s ability, interests and willingness to learn, and then decide the right approach for each individual.

Implemented properly, as the Glenunga experience demonstrates, digital learning also reduces the administration load on teachers, and helps identify high-performance within teaching cohorts to deliver better learning outcomes. Digital learning also has the capacity to address gaps in access to high-quality learning.

For the country to properly take advantage of this moment, it needs to be a cross-sector, nationwide effort driven by the State, Catholic and independent sectors. The challenge in all of this is that schools can’t do it themselves. Neither can departments.

The willingness to change, to start the process of change, needs to come from a combination of those. Challenging the status quo will take courage. It will take commitment and collaboration. But the opportunity now exists to take this moment for change and make it happen.


COVID-19 has given schools the chance to shift to a data-enabled teaching and learning process. 

About this article

By Catherine Friday

EY Global Education Leader; EY Oceania Managing Partner, Government and Health Sciences

Improving how governments work and deliver services. Mustang owner. Keen horse rider. Average but enthusiastic skier.