Has technology failed education?

Why Educational Technology Has Failed Schools by Paul D. Fernhout (January, 2007):
Educational technology has been a big success at homes, in libraries, in museums, and in business. Let’s say you have an interest in, say, Aardvarks. At home and want to know the weight of a typical aardvark right now? Google it: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=aardvark+weight
Want to buy one? 🙂 Try Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Wild-Safari-Aardvark/dp/B000H6H4VK
Want to sell one you no longer need? Try ebay: http://cgi.ebay.com/Aardvark-Direct-Pro-Q10-PCI-Audio-Interface-w-CubaseLE_W0QQitemZ270076288454QQihZ017QQcategoryZ64446QQcmdZViewItem
Want to collaborate with others on making one better? Try sourceforge: http://sourceforge.net/projects/aardvark
Want a 3D simulation written by an aardvark? http://flyawaysimulation.com/article746.html
Want to make your own educational simulation about aardvarks? Try one of the tools linked here: http://www.ambrosine.com/resource.html
An endless variety of information related to just one arbitrary topic, easily accessible using Google or another search engine.

Fernhout’s article is straight to the point (and thanks to Bill Kerr for his link to this; I got to this via Bill’s recent post about Alan Kay).

I especially like this line from Fernhout:

…to recall from my own pre-computer elementary school experiences in the 1960s, there was a big fancy expensive “science kit” in the classroom closet — but there was little time to use it or explore it — we were too busy sitting at our desks. 🙂

Likewise, I have every intention of getting the most out of my wedding cutlery on a daily basis! OK not so “educational” but living for the moment, as children do, and do well. Fernhout notes that children don’t need to be coerced into learning, they do so naturally when left, naturally, to do so.

I’ve been thinking about playbased learning since Rudd and Macklin announced their early childhood plan as part of Labour’s education revolution and also reflecting on Stephen Smith’s words about establishing a curriculum of core subjects; and what this all means in terms of educating for the future. Fernhout’s probably hit the nail on the head when he says that schools aren’t in the business of just-in-time learning, rather its just-in-case learning. Bill picked up on this point too. I’d agree that schools will need to change in order to respond and remain relevant to an everchanging world.

The thing is, don’t we generally think that what we are doing is right? Good? Necessary? Sure, politicians are out to score brownie points from the voting public, but generally we all like to think we have good, decent intentions. The notion of the public good is changing, especially as we seek the soul-satisfying pursuits of yesteryear through farmers markets, more flexible work and holiday arrangements; returning to community and cottage based activities:

It is only the last ten thousand years of agriculture and then industrialization that have been the anomaly — changes in part driven by rising populations and growing bureaucracies. But truly modern technology like nanotech replicators or flexible manufacturing powered by internet connected computers means we can allow the masses to go back to that sort of lifestyle revolving around family and community humans are so well adapted for, where production of food or goods is only incidental, not central.

  Image: Zach K

I’m reminded (cynically) though of Terminator’s Sky-Net, where AI robots, left to tend to menial tasks of production (and defence of the nation, as the sub-plot goes), then took over. So, how much do we set to auto-pilot?

Or flipside, how about this? Technology is used specifically as an enabler:

“Mitra simply left the computer on, connected to the Internet, and allowed any passerby to play with it. He monitored activity on the PC using a remote computer and a video camera mounted in a nearby tree. What [Dr. Sugata Mitra] discovered was that the most avid users of the machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net.” [See Hole-in-the-Wall experiment.]

I won’t quote anymore from the essay, but you get my drift anyway; read it! if you haven’t already. If you’re an advocate for unschooling (and have followed previous conversations along these lines), you’ll no doubt have come across this already. :o)

So, back to Labour’s education revolution then. Does it mean a revolution in terms of changing what “School” means? Does it mean a revolution in terms of opening up rather than closing down connected spaces (virtual and otherwise)? What is it we are trying to protect exactly?

As a (future) parent, I think I’d want to protect my children from the closed mindedness of a stifling, standards-driven learning environment that teaches conformity instead of creativity and original thinking! And don’t get me wrong, our teachers have to find ways to survive in these environments too!

So, I’m left wondering about curricula, (un)schooling and technology-enabled learning and how Labour’s push for an education revolution and aspects like playbased learning will look in reality; or will we only end up with the chess pieces returning to their conforming starting positions? As we get closer to election time, I’m sure the debate will really heat up and I hope our highly capable educators will jump in and offer their opinions based on their practice and experiences. Only, will they be heard?

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2 comments so far

  1. Lynsey on

    Hi Marg
    Good ideas. Here’s my 2 cents worth – I’d love to see a government abolish all benefits, and instead (using in part the saved money from the administration of the aforementioned benefits) pay every citizen from the age of 21, $28,000 (net before tax) per year. If a government had saved that amount ($28k for 20 years) for each of its citizens from their birth, and invested it at 5% there would be $560,000 plus the accumulated interest. Taking the $560k, investing at 5% provides the $28k per annum. The basis for a universal salary.

    If people wanted to work – great – they still get the $28k plus whatever they earn. If they want to set up business – great – they’ve got the $28k as a security during those first scary year(s) when incomes can be precarious. If someone wants to study – great – it’s hard to work full time and study – here’s an option. If people opted to save the money and work instead, without adding a whole lot extra they could retire at 40 or so on $50-60k pa, forever. Not a bad start on an annual income. On death, the original ‘seed’ money (the $560k) ‘goes back’ into the pool, the money saved by the person would be available as part of the estate as usual. NZ has an issue in that we’re apparently not good savers. Perhaps that’s because you can only save what’s left over. If there was ‘left over’ at the front end there might be more motivation (and ability) to save for retirement.

    If someone wants to immigrate into this country (as I’m sure people would), great, simply bring along $560k for each member of the family, irrespective of age, in addition to satisfying the usual range of requirements.

    It’s unlikely to happen, instead governments would rather sustain a percentage of the population trapped – based on dependency, benefits, and ill physical and mental health – plus, of course the subsequent bureaucracy required to sustain it. Not everyone has the physical and/or intellectual ability to work a standard job – and so their choices are limited. And then – here – as I believe in Aussie, the on-going ‘how will we support the increasing numbers of geriatric boomers? You know they expect the same quality of drugs they took as teens – or better.’

    I guess there’ll be an economist with a compelling argument with why the$28kpa is a bad idea – maybe it’d turn Aussie or NZ into Mugabe’s Zimbabwe where a $Z1=

  2. Marg on

    Lynsey – great ideas! So, you’re asking our governments to actually INVEST in us?!! That’s a new concept isn’t it!

    It sounds too logical for our govts to go for it…shame really, I’d like to see them go with something like this – we are our own worst enemies though – we have such a habit of putting ourselves and others down that we just don’t envisage something like this as possible! Pity, it would ease so much strain on an already strained public system – that administrates and conforms rather than invests and supports.

    BTW – When are YOU running for PM? :o)


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