Published on 2012/04/02

Why Technology Isn't The Solution To Better Education

Why Technology Isn’t The Solution To Better Education
Institutional advisors need to make sure their new “toy” will continue to serve their educational purpose after the initial euphoria dies down. Photo by Leon Wilson.

Throughout recent history, technological “innovation” has been promoted as the ‘silver bullet’ solution to our societies’ problems.  Fabulous promises of an easier life and more leisure time have almost always fallen short of expectations – and nowhere more than in education.

From the first introduction of [usable] computers into classrooms, teachers were told: “Find a way to use this in your teaching.”  Previously, it had always been: “Here’s a subject, what methods can we employ to teach it most effectively?”

Just in the last few years, with rapid advancements in technology production and availability, one has to consider carefully, whether a new ‘toy’ is still going to have a place in the educational environment, once initial excitement for ‘the new’ has died down.  Furthermore, what are the obsolescence implications?  Upgrades and modifications are now produced so frequently as to be annoying.

So what real benefit can technology bring to teaching and learning in the 21st Century – and can this technology make a contribution in more than one area of the curriculum?

In the process of answering these questions, a short sales delivery by a slick rep is not going to be enough to judge a product’s suitability to fulfil your school’s needs.  Furthermore, most school timetables are activity rich and time poor! Using any technology at the start can be a very time-intensive drain on ‘people resources’.   A few hours ‘training’ is inadequate if you are not immediately going to be using what you have learnt – and that’s before you even get to training the kids!  I remember when I was involved with e-learning in schools (from 2005).  Just getting 26 children to log on to a learning platform successfully for the first time could take 50 minutes of an hour’s lesson and actually, this method of engaging with technology through password protection and filtering was not helpful in promoting interest.

It is only through regular use of technology in context with our daily activities that we really become familiar with its potential – or lack of.  Children and teachers need to know what the technology is capable of doing and together find ways to use it in learning activities.  It may be that a school can cut its technology budget by only purchasing specific items – because the kids have mostly got access to many items that a school might consider purchasing for use in supporting educational activities.

Also realise that school for many young people is now a very artificial environment, competing with a rich-media world, widely accessible and more available outside of the classroom than within it.  Children are savvier [when it comes to using technology] than many adults – but do not necessarily develop the most effective practice to broaden their understanding beyond their immediate moments of need.

If schools are going to use technology in teaching and learning, then the process has to be more than one-way, and not a simple replication of non-electronic methods.  Technology now enables children to feed back into the learning process in both synchronous and asynchronous time as well as receive information from the teacher or Internet.  Also, as tempting as it has become, education should not hijack all technological innovations (e.g. social networks) for teaching.  Children no more want to be living and breathing formal education 24/7 than adults want to be doing the same.  In any case, why does everything have to be a “learning experience”?  Back off, won’t you!

In our work-obsessed society, we have lost the meaning and value of “education” in its broadest terms and replaced it with political agendas for economic expansion.  Maintaining 19th century examination practices and 20th century “league tables” only serves to reduce equality of opportunity and put fear into those [teachers] doing their best to give our young people a fair start in life.

Learner engagement can be improved through the use of technology, but only if we change other systems and practices.  One of these might be to make post-13 ‘formal education’ voluntary but attendance on a ‘school’ premises, still compulsory.  This could work by promoting interest and choice of activities.  At some level, everyone naturally wants to learn about and/or discover new things.  Staff would both teach in classes and also mix in informal spaces with those not immediately in a lesson.  Smart technology could be used to support this change.

A move away from formal examinations towards electronic continual assessment could easily be implemented, as too could a booking system to enrol in classes of interest.  Any person applying for work [post-16] would have a ‘plain English’ print-out or electronic résumé giving a prospective employer precise information on personal ability in all areas of endeavour.

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Readers Comments

James Branden 2012/04/02 at 10:20 am

Interesting notion – I definitely agree with you. If an institution doesn’t know how it’s going to make sure their new purchase doesn’t turn into a white elephant, they shouldn’t make the purchase.

Too much money gets spent on these, as you say, “toys”, and the problem is it’s typically taxpayer money that pays for the toy that winds up sitting, unused, collecting dust and cobwebs.

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