Are schools the “last holdout from digital revolution”?


At the eG8 forum in Paris yesterday Rupert Murdoch spoke out about how digital technologies have left education largely untouched. He is quoted as saying “A teacher waking up from a 50-year nap would find a classroom looks almost exactly the same as it did in the Victorian era. My friends, what we have here is a colossal failure of imagination and an abdication of our responsibilities to our children and grandchildren.” This seems a little strong. Who exactly is failing in their responsibilities? Teachers? Parents? Software professionals? The whole education system?

Limitless Learning would be among the first to admit that the education sector is still working out how best to use technology, but tech is an expensive and time-consuming thing to play with and schools don’t have the cash available to get it wrong. They would rather wait until a proven (and preferably cheap) system comes along than spend precious resources and staff time training on a system that doesn’t have a proven, positive impact on success. Yes, teachers are a sceptical and conservative breed, but that’s because if they’ve spent anytime in education – particularly in the UK – they’ve seen dozens of “revolutionising” ideas come and go, all without causing much of an impact on learning.

Aside from disillusioned, overworked teachers, the other problem with getting the education sector to use software is that there isn’t much good software available. A lot of educational software seems to have been designed by people with a technology or business background who fail to fully grasp how pressed teachers are for time and how short a child’s attention span is. If your software takes a while to load, requires individuals to remember passwords, or tries to do something a teacher can do better, it’s not going to revolutionise the classroom. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for it somewhere (for ill or excluded pupils), but children these days are often starved of attention at home and plugging them into machines at school deprives them of the human interaction they seek from their teachers, and is not the secret to “unlocking the potential” of the world’s children. Software usage needs to be intelligently incorporated into classrooms, but it should not dominate it. There is no machine or software yet developed that can replace the human interaction that makes a child think and develop. Sugata Mitra understood the need for children to have an older person to question them on their learning when he created the Granny Cloud to go with his hole in the wall computers, which children use to teach themselves from the internet. The grannies in the granny cloud may not have understood the topic being discussed, but it was important for the children to have a real human to be accountable to before the hole in the wall computers were an effective source of learning.

I’m not sure if this computer-delivered education is the digital revolution Murdoch envisions, but if it’s a way for him to charge for his content on the internet, I have a feeling it just might be!

– Opinion post by Jane Ballantine

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