If & When Schools Invest in ICT, Teachers First
Whenever I’m told that the newest technology, be it laptops or lasers, is the killer app for education, and every child should have one, I start to question this instigator. In doing so, I use a very loose form of the Socratic Method, which comes to us from the great thinkers of Western thought – the ancient Greeks.
The ideas and philosophy they developed has since formed the foundation of our civilization, even influencing this humble website’s debate design. Yet from every account known, the Classical Greek philosophers were pioneers without a single computer, and without electricity. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and their contemporaries achieved intellectual greatness that transcends time to shape our very thoughts today without the use of a single transistor. Just a few millennia’s worth of teachers.
So when we talk about including ICT’s into education, let us first focus on the primary educator, the key to inspiring self-discovery and life-long learning, the humble teacher. Let us not try to purchase and support 30, 50, 1 million units of technology in the hands of children. Let us concentrate limited resources in 1/30th of that population, the cultural translators that can share and spread knowledge to hungry minds at a rate they can absorb. Let us equip teachers with educational tools.
In looking at the array of tools, I will be the first to propose that ICT tools should be available – they can be as efficient or more so than other options to empower teachers. I also temper the excitement of the shiny flashy with the reality that the humble chalkboard, pencil, and pointer have withstood the test of time. They should be a prerequisite, long before radio, TV, or computers come into play. In fact, we have Pythagoras constructing proofs before even the slide rule.
When the basics are met, and a school system is ready to make an investment in ICT, I believe that concentrating them in the hands of teachers not only reduces the overall cost and complexity of an ICT deployment, it also increases ICT effectiveness.
First and foremost, at 1/30th of a school’s population, teachers are a smaller number of people to reach. They also have a greater capacity to understand the deeper usage and applicability of ICT than children. Teachers can also help in the maintenance and support of ICT tools in more complex ways than children. Last but not least, a computer in the hands of a teacher can increase his or her own capacity to educate, impacting the lives of 30+ children every year for decades.
We now only have to convince parents, and through them, school administrators and Ministries of Education, that excitement about education should come not from an image of their child using the newest technologies, but from the understanding that their child will benefit even more from the practicality of their teacher using technology to improve educational outcomes.