Can technology transform how we educate our children in a positive way? I’m Saying No!

Author: Rishi Raja, Marketing Director and Trustee at One Cause

Okay, I know what you are thinking – “Technology, in particular the internet has already changed Education. What are you harping on about?”. Well I hope you might think slightly differently by the end of this short read.

Before I get started though – a little background – I’m an absolute technology geek! My wife gets sick of me going on about the next new gadget that’s going to ‘revolutionise’ our life. So when I first started thinking about the influence and impact of technology on education, I was excited. I thought I was going to talk about how technology will, of course, transform how we educate our children, especially in the developing world. But the more I thought about it, the more unsure I became.

Yes – technology is making education available to more people. For example, I must give kudos to people like Sal Khan who founded sites such as Khan Academy, which has the mission of providing ‘free, world‑class education for anyone, anywhere’ through the internet. Though he faces some criticism; he is trying to make a difference. This is massive progress – a game changer, right?

Well let’s first take a step back. What is Education? Education is a vehicle to help people get jobs and provide for themselves. So as per our slogan ‘Education is the answer to poverty’. But is technology going to be a game changer in solving poverty and inequality? I’m not so sure – especially when you think about the fact that most technology is only available to those schools that can afford it.

The main problem though is that we buy into the hype of quick fixes to complex problems and in doing so become blind to what actually needs to be done and the impact it’s really having.

Children go to school five days a week for around 8 to 16 years. Staying motivated can be tough: they need to be inspired and engaged to stay in school and learn (especially in developing countries). While computers and mobile devices can help engage them, they can also be a massive distraction.

What children actually need is tailored education with interaction and encouragement from people that know them to help them focus on their education and goals. There is no technology I can think of that can do that. Can you? That’s why I think technology can support education but will always come second to the importance of great teachers.

In 1922, Thomas Edison predicted that movies would “revolutionise our educational system” and replace text books. In 1945, William Levinson, a Cleveland public schools radio station director, said “The time may come when a portable radio receiver will be as common in the classroom as is a blackboard”. In the 1960s, US presidents, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, invested millions in the idea of classroom TVs. Have any of these ideas really revolutionised or changed education? I don’t think so.

Technology is a tool not a motivator, and so only really amplifies the standard of the teachers using it. If the teachers are good, then technology can be used effectively to amplify education and make it more engaging. With teachers who aren’t good, technology can create a distracting environment where children’s education can suffer.

In fact, I’m going to go as far as saying that technology could have a negative impact on education. Think about it: how do you use your time on the internet? To browse Facebook or educational purposes? And does it actually act as distraction from what you’re trying to achieve? I must admit it does for me sometimes.

For children it’s even tougher to avoid – they are naturally curious (an advantage and a disadvantage) and can be easily influenced and disrupted by technology. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen, at least, within the classrooms where their full focus should be on the teacher and the subject at hand. We have to be careful not to introduce this too early in their life.

So going back to the question: is technology going to positively change the world of education? I say ‘no’. And if we’re not careful the impact of technology could in fact be negative. Teachers are and will always remain the cornerstone of education and helping them to motivate and tailor education to our children is where our attention should be. Then – and only then – should we introduce technology to our schools.

What do you think? Add your comments below.

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