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Are ICT investments in schools an education revolution or fool’s errand?

Wayan Vota


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?

Will investments in ICT create a revolution in education, as The Children’s Machine predicts, where the learner is central and knowledge is created and understood with guidance from fellow learners and adult facilitators? Or is ICT in education really a fools’ errand, yet another fad that will waste resources, create Flickering Minds, and leave educational systems no better than before?

This month’s Educational Technology Debate on ICT investment in schools and education will feature the following five discussants giving their regarded opinion on this issue:

  • Kentaro Toyama a researcher in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley and previously assistant managing director of Microsoft Research India. He was recently featured in the “Can Technology End Poverty?” debate, the impetus for this month’s ETD.
  • Claudia Urrea, a visiting research scientist at the MIT – Media Lab. Her PhD thesis focuses on the creation of new learning environments for the digital era and she collaborates with OLPC in the worldwide deployment of revolutionary learning tools to children in the developing world.
  • Lowell Monke is assistant professor of Education at Wittenberg University. He researches and writes on the social and psychological impact of high technology on children’s development, including, Breaking Down the Digital Walls.
  • Cristobal Cobo is a research fellow at Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford, and a coordinator of a collective project on informal, non-formal and invisible learning as noted in the TEDx talk: Invisible learning: How to learn beyond the school?
  • Larry Cuban, a former high school social studies teacher, district superintendent, and university professor. He is also a prodigious author on education and the role of technology, including Oversold and Underused, a critical look at the actual use of computers by teachers and students in education.
  • Rob van Son, a linguistics expert with a focus on speech technology and elearning for the Netherlands Cancer Institute and the University of Amsterdam. He was a member of the team that developed the SpeakGoodChinese CALL application, and is a regular contributor to the Educational Technology Debate.

Please join us for what we all expect to be a lively and informative conversation exploring the impact of ICT on educational systems around the world. Your input can start right now in the comments below, and opening remarks will follow shortly.

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9 Responses to “Are ICT investments in schools an education revolution or fool’s errand?”

  1. When discussion turns to “educational technology” many consider only those “technologies” that can be used to augment a typical American classroom. Thoughts turn to digital projectors, computers, software, and the internet. All of these technologies can be quite beneficial. They allow teachers to illustrate principles that would be very time-consuming or difficult to illustrate using only a chalkboard. Computers and software can provide drill and practice with much more immediate feedback which greatly enhances learning. And the internet can be a source for a vast wealth of information, providing access to almost all the knowledge of mankind right in one’s own bedroom. They are the power-tools of education. Unfortunately, these power-tools are being used in the same old context as the previous “hand-tools” represented by chalkboards, pencil, and paper. Just as power tools make building a house faster and more efficient, if one builds that house using the same plan as in the past then one will end up with the same old inefficient, thin-walled, rectangular, box. Sometimes, however, a new tool or material will come along that has the power to entirely change the industry. Rather than build houses out of 2×4 studs and drywall, some are experimenting with spraying structural foam onto a form made of nothing more than a bubble of plastic sheeting. Many of the same tools (power and hand) are used to finish up the building, but the entire definition of a house has changed. Similarly, adding technologies to the classroom while keeping the same old educational system will result in the same old, ineffective, shallow, rubber-stamp learning. The only way technology itself can truly affect the educational system will be if that technology is revolutionary enough to completely redefine what we mean by “education.”

    For more please see: http://demml.blogspot.com/2009/07/philosophy-stat

    • Agreed, there are two ways in which we can use technology in education.

      We can use technology to enhance current educational activities, which one can argue is the easiest way to introduce any new technology (digital or otherwise). This way you have the least resistance to change, yet only an incremental impact on outcomesWe can use technology to create whole new educational activities, which is much harder than just doing the same thing with a new tool. Here is where we see much push-back by educators yet agreement by technologies and academics that new technologies can create new pedagogy and greater educational outcomes.

      You’ll see viewpoints around both approaches in this month’s conversation with our all-star list of discussants.

      • Why do we need to choose? It doesn't follow that these two options are necessarily mutually exclusive. And why posit only two? Why not a synthesis or combination of these and yet other approaches?

        This is a false dilemma, and oversimplifies an infinitely more complex field of human activity into artificial polarities.


  2. Yeah, as one participant at a recent conference in Buenos Aires aptly put it: Are we talking about using technology to improve or change education?

  3. If Plato is the standard, all education is a fool's errand. His treatise on government, The Republic so-called, is the classic manual for tyranny by a self-perpetuating oligarchy. He recommends a vast and weighty censorship, including tight restrictions on art and music; official lies to maintain nationalism disguised as patriotism; and most of the rest of the apparatus of the authoritarian, ideological state of the Left, the Right, or Off the Deep End (as was apparently the case in Libya).

    But he is not the standard. In fact, there is no standard. Technology is about to wipe away all of our old ways of doing things as effectively as did the Gutenberg press and type. ICT in education provides access to all of the public knowledge of the world, and to everybody else in the world. The notion that these are not of the essence of education, or the failure of imagination that fails to consider them at all, render the conventional debate meaningless, and worse than useless.

  4. Please refer our work, 'Knowmatics – a New Revolution in Higher education', Journal of the World Universities Forum 4,1,2011:1-11 and also related works posted in http://www.slideshare.net/drrajumathew, telling about the incompatibility of Information technology in dealing with Knowledge – Learning and Teaching. .


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