ICT in Schools
From the time of Plato, educators have struggled with the acquisition of knowledge, seeking it to be understood by the learner versus just assimilated as dogma. And since Plato’s time, educational technology – from the written word to the printed book to the chalkboard – has been hailed as the solution to this challenge. Each successive technology had impact, though often not the type or scale that the introducer hoped.
Now we come to the digital age, where electronic information and communication technologies (ICT) are the newest promise to empower learners to understand and interact with society. Radio, TV, and now computers and the Internet are profoundly changing civilization, as we know it. Can they have the same impact on education?
There are no technology shortcuts to good education. For primary and secondary schools that are underperforming or limited in resources, efforts to improve education should focus almost exclusively on better teachers and stronger administrations. Information technology, if used at all, should be targeted for certain, specific uses or limited to well-funded schools whose fundamentals are not in question.
To back these assertions, I’ll draw on four different lines of evidence. First, the history of electronic technologies in schools is fraught with failures. Second, computers are no exception, and rigorous studies show that it is incredibly difficult to have positive educational impact with computers. Technology at best only amplifies the pedagogical capacity of educational systems; it can make good schools better, but it makes bad schools worse. Third, technology has a huge opportunity cost in the form of more effective non-technology interventions. Fourth, many good school systems excel without much technology.
The inescapable conclusion is that significant investments in computers, mobile phones, and other electronic gadgets in education are neither necessary nor warranted for most school systems. In particular, the attempt to use technology to fix underperforming classrooms (or to replace non-existent ones) is futile. And, for all but wealthy, well-run schools, one-to-one computer programs cannot be recommended in good conscience.
Sloppy thinking leads to careless policymaking about technology’s link to learning. While no “revolution” has yet occurred in schools, a “fool’s errand,” technology is not.
Why? Because schools are political and social institutions that have to be responsive to voters and parents who provide funds to build schools, hire educators, and insure that children get taught what the community expects. What every U.S. community now expects from its schools is for their children to be technologically literate, college-educated, and skilled to step into the labor market upon graduation. With these expectations, public schools, dependent upon voters and parents, must make some effort to buy and deploy the most recent technological tools even as school boards and superintendents know that they cannot keep up with constant technological changes.
After ten years of continuous effort to bring digital technologies to the classroom (particularly in the secondary and tertiary education levels) the European Commission has acknowledged in several policy assessments that the impact of these regional investments in technology have not been as effective as it was expected. From these evaluations arose the discussion that in addition to the public initiatives that encourage and promote the acquisition of technology, it is also compulsory to develop e-skills that enable the proficient use of the Internet and other technologies. The reduction of this “divide” will demand a transversal, multidisciplinary and mid but also long term collaboration between the private and public sector. But also it will demand a more ecological approach to combine formal and informal environments of learning.
There are plenty of good reasons to be skeptical that ICT can bring about a revolution in education: Lack of solid research showing better learning outcomes than other innovative methods; enormous cost (much of it hidden) in providing sustainable ICT resources and training; and the fact that there is now a long history of educational technology promoters over-promising and under-delivering.
I suspect others in this forum will discuss these issues. But one powerful argument for continuing to inject more technology into schools seems to remain untouched by all of those concerns. That is the inevitability, at least in the foreseeable future that our children’s lives will be saturated with technology and they will have to know how to deal with a technologically driven society. Thus, all academic or financial arguments that might cast doubt on the efficacy of ICT are typically overwhelmed by the sense that we have to adapt education to the realities of the 21st century.
In that respect, it seems to me that the debate over whether schools have to find a place for ICT is over. The only question remaining is how to do it. In this brief introductory comment, I’d like to introduce just one of several factors having to do with the character of ICT that make that “how” question revolutionary in a different way than most technology promoters believe.
. Computers are present in all aspects of modern society; from simple applications such as automatic doors and programmable air-conditioning systems in the home, to more complex uses in the medical field. Computers have changed many fields of study. However, computers have not influenced education in the ways predicted by researchers and early advocates of […]