I vividly remember picking up our first microwave oven with my dad. I must have been 5 years old. Instantly, cooking food became quicker and easier.
I was born in a time when technology was just starting to influence the way we lived our lives.
I remember the first drive-through McDonald’s. In an instant, you could have your meal delivered to your car window with a smile.
I remember watching my first video on our VCR – The Last Starfighter. Suddenly the way we watched movies has changed. It was also the first ‘remote control’ we had in our house.
Jumping forward 30 years, our house is now run by remote controls or some other forms of hand held devices. I can now sit with a friend in a café and deposit money into his bank account simply with his mobile phone number.
We now live in a world where everything is faster, more efficient, and more convenient.
The faster it is, the more value we see in it. Faster Internet, faster aeroplanes, faster delivery times, faster service.
The faster it is, the more we are conditioned to crave instant gratification. We live in an age when if something doesn’t happen within a reasonable timeframe (and of course the definition of what is reasonable is changing as we speak) we see fault in it. Something in the process has probably caused a problem that needs to be ‘fixed’ in order to get the ball rolling (more quickly) again.
What has been the primary reason behind this shift in the speed of which things get done? Technology.
But can education be viewed in the same way? Does it work in the same way?
Surely technological advances have improved teaching methods so greatly that educating our children should be instantaneous, just as with everything else?
Teachers are not working with machines; they’re working with minds. And young, developing minds at that. Yet every year I taught, I felt that I was considered as a part of the education process (a teacher) that needed ‘fixing’ in order to improve results.
Why can’t you just fix my child? Why is it taking so long? We have invested so much money to help them. What do you mean there is no ‘fix’ for this?
We should never compare children to a machine that can simply have old, broken parts replaced with shiny new ones. The parts we are attempting to use come in the form of apps and computer programs. Gamifying the process or adding cool apps or giving each child an iPad – these things by themselves can’t help improving a child’s result. If only education were that simple.
Have you noticed that while everything around us has modernised and become more visually appealing, most classrooms still remain the same as they did when we were children? I drove past my old primary school the other day and while there were some changes to the face of the school, my old kindergarten classroom hadn’t changed at all.
I worked at a school where the classrooms had been built from scratch 10 years earlier. Apart from the modern looking ‘glass walls’, it was still just a classroom. Uncomfortable plastic chairs that often didn’t sit square to the floor. Artwork and children’s writing hung up on display around the room. Cheap, thin carpet underfoot. Bags hanging in untidy locker areas. Four fans hanging precariously from the ceiling to combat the summer heat. A tiny oil heater to protect the occupants from the cold winter mornings, which would take pride of place at my desk. And whenever people wandered past those ‘glass walls’, they would of course assume that I was the most popular teacher in the country!
However, one major change has occurred from when you were sitting on those plastic chairs looking at your teacher – the board behind them. In your case it was probably a black chalkboard. I remember being in year 6 and the class next to ours had a whiteboard installed! Today, you wouldn’t see too many classrooms that didn’t have an electronic board of some description, offering access to untold amounts of information, at the push of a button.
But is this changing the way teachers teach, or is it simply providing the use of a fancier blackboard for the teacher to write on? Is it adding extra pressures for those teachers who have been teaching for 20 years and suddenly have to be told what to do from a first year out teacher?
I get the impression that many people now see a computer on the teacher’s desk and a fancy board to work from and think, ‘this must make educating my child faster!’
If only this was the case.
Whilst technology makes learning more aesthetically pleasing and information more readily available for your child, students must still go through the actual process of ‘learning’. It’s unavoidable. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing on a blackboard, a whiteboard, a SmartBoard or a surfboard, i always goes before e, except after c and 5 + 5 will always equal 10.
The process of learning core English and Mathematics skills is a rite of passage and one that we should always try to improve upon, but not rush through thinking that faster is always better.
There is a simple reason why our curriculums are so packed. There is a lot to learn. And learning takes time.
Of course there are going to be students who pick things up more quickly than others, but a school year goes for a ‘year’ not solely so that you can go to work and provide for the family, but because that’s how long it takes to educate, reinforce and build knowledge.
For a child to not only learn, but also understand a concept, they must first be taught the correct way. In addition, they should be given a suitable number of examples and then have the opportunity to practice this skill. The number of times they need to practice varies for each child, but somewhere between a handful and ‘before the boredom zone’ is reached.
No matter how fancy the board a teacher uses is, a child, especially one who finds school difficult, must go through the learning process in order to understand concepts and build confidence in themselves.
Whilst everything else in this world is getting faster and more efficient, we shouldn’t rush pushing this onto our children.
These days search engines such as Google can provide us with an amazing, seemingly never-ending fountain of information. It’s hard to believe that we ever survived without it. And mobile phones, for that matter too. I remember having 20 cents ‘emergency money’ in my wallet in case I had to make a phone call.
But that was years ago.
Not these days.
Computers and technology are becoming more and more integrated into teachers’ and students’ lives, and while these tools are brilliant for giving information, at the same time having information readily available does not necessarily encourage learning. If a child doesn’t want to learn or doesn’t know how to learn, the fanciest whiteboard or computer or online learning system will not help them much.
These days we are teaching our students to get their phones out and ‘just Google it’. And I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing. We need to teach kids these things so that they can function effectively in modern day society. If there is a more efficient way of transferring knowledge or collaborating, we should adopt it. As they say, technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of a great teacher can be transformational. What I am saying is that this shouldn’t come at a cost of learning the basics the ‘old fashioned’ way.
Why should kids learn to add and subtract when they all have phones with a calculator built in? Why should they learn to write by hand when surely all they have to do is type or speak into a microphone in the future? Surely this will be faster and better? Why waste time learning something that can be done automatically for them?
I guess it’s like learning the game of golf. You cannot learn to play golf in 10 minutes. Sure, you might be able to hit the ball, but is that ‘playing’ golf? What about the other aspects involved of putting, driving, chipping, windy conditions and rain. An incredibly frustrating game to play, but when you play it well, an incredibly rewarding game too.
Isn’t this what school is all about? Teaching our children that in order to reach the rewarding stages of life, you will have to go through some tough times to get there. That it will take real effort and repeated practice on their behalf. That sometimes it will seem ‘boring’, but that’s just called life.
The 21st century has brought with it wonderful advancements designed to make our lives fuller. Bigger, better, faster! Let’s not get too swept up in this and think that computers will make the job of educating our children ‘easy’. Or worse still, replace the need for teachers altogether. Technology can’t replace teachers; technology facilitates teaching.
Educators have taught for thousands of years without computers.
Computers can’t teach without educators.
– Opinion piece written by Simon Rae. Simon is the Director of Lifestyle Tutoring for Kids, offering affordable, effective maths tutoring for primary school aged children. Having taught around the world in both teaching and management roles, his aim now is to educate and build confidence in children, not only academically, but also personally and socially.
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