We’re between a rock and a hard place.
Today, technology is complimentary to everyday tasks, necessary to survival in the fast-paced world of work, school, social relations, and entertainment. So it is natural for parents and community leaders to expect technology in schools, and to push for it as “crucial for training the citizens of the future.”
And yet, in an economy where families are losing homes, teachers are getting pink-slipped, and class sizes are bursting at the seams, there is little money for new technology for classrooms, and budgets are strained enough without adding maintenance costs and software licensing.
The underlying belief is that technology is the cure for what ails our troubled public schools. But we literally cannot afford to rush to judgment and spend precious money on resources that may not help, meanwhile overlooking more cost-effective, successful instructional methods already in use.
Reports such as “Tough Choices or Tough Times” by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Worker identify that students coming into the job market need creativity and problem solving skills, while the National Commission on Writing in American Schools and Colleges concludes that what workers lack after completing school, even college, are practical writing and communication skills. A series of stories on NPR in February 2008 highlighted research on “executive function” skills that children have innately but lose throughout their school years. So the question remains – are the skills that students need going to be helped by having a smart board or a laptop at school?
If what is being taught with the fancy technology are the skills that have been identified as critical, then great! But if the smart board, or the classroom set of laptops, or the YouTube-accessible lecture are just more of the same for kids, like playing Wii but for credit, or web-chatting with a teacher rather than a crush, then the technology is just a waste of money, or worse – it is feeding our youth’s addiction to all-things-tech and doing so with irrefutable educational authority.
Don’t schools have a responsibility to teach students to be resourceful no matter what advantages they have? After all, the student whose parents just lost their jobs and now lives in subsidized housing with a common-use computer room containing ancient PCs cannot record his book report on video to share online with his class. What are we teaching him? In times when more schools and more students are becoming “have-nots,” is it right to widen the gap based only on our infatuation with electronica?
Teachers throughout the years – the centuries – have engaged students in active learning and helped them achieve intellectual advancement with rudimentary tools: books, paper, pencils, their minds, the people around them – heck, even papyrus and stone tablets. Why do we think that the new versions of these tools – a tablet computer instead of a stone – will make miracles happen? It’s not the tools, its how you use them that counts. Isn’t that a lesson we should be teaching our students?