[OPINION] Can technology really change education?

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As someone who has worked in integrating ICT into education for a while, I’ve uncovered a lot of opinions based around the fact that ICT doesn’t really have a significant impact on education. It cannot be measured, especially when you look at what government wants to achieve in education. And this is generally true across the globe – there is simply no empirical evidence to support the fact that ICT makes a difference.

That said, the way I see ICT is not based on impact, but rather as an enabler.

ICT accelerates teaching and learning in a way that is more stimulating than our present type of learning. If you look at today’s generation of learners, technology is ubiquitous. It’s handled very differently to our older generation. Yet this group of older people makes most decisions in ICT and, for the most part, they don’t really understand how the generation that is currently growing uses technology.

There is thus a disconnect between those implementing and those using technology.

For me, however, the focus is not on strategic plans but rather the usage model. In other words, what is technology being used for by this generation? And how can it be used as an accelerator?

Technology makes learning more interesting, more stimulating and more relevant to the students in our current educational system, but changing educational outcomes from 20% to 80% is not going to happen overnight

As a country, we’re quite prescriptive about what we have to teach in the classroom and, of course, there is a place for technology inside of this.

So if you’re looking at how technology can improve teaching and learning, one answer lies in including things like differentiation where students can learn at their own pace, any time and anywhere – they learn based on their ability and skill level.

But in most cases, the way we teach and assess is based on simple recall instead of learning to create new knowledge. Content is delivered in such a way that it’s focused on learners replicating what they’ve learnt exactly. That is the methodology but it’s not actually what learning is all about – students shouldn’t be passive recipient of knowledge. Rather, it is about using the information you’ve received to create something else.

Personal communication in the classroom

In schools, technology is seen as a distraction instead of an enabler.

As a former teacher and principal, I know how teachers use technology but also what they fear. Technology should come naturally to a teacher. It’s about innovation; something that comes from looking at every possible way you can get concepts across in a way that is relevant. If you don’t see real world applications for what you do, it becomes totally irrelevant and students don’t assimilate the information.

Andre Christian, Intel's Education Business Development Manager for South Africa
Andre Christian, Intel’s Education Business Development Manager for South Africa

Social media, too, is often a dirty word – schools have blocked and locked out Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat… but these communication tools could be a huge differentiator between teachers and learners. They have the ability to create personal conversations within the classroom, take away potential embarrassment and boost self-esteem.

When it comes down to it, technology can assist in so many ways that most teachers are not aware of. Yet most implementations by CSI organisations (or from within the private sector) have become a box-drop – where the aim is to get rid of an obligation which they have, rather than focusing on what the technology can do and how it can be sustained. Putting technology into a school and then going away is not necessarily going to make an impact.

But how is that school going to manage when you pull out that support? My question is – what have you done as an organisation to ensure that those kids actually continue in their progress? Because if all you do is drop off boxes, you’ll soon see schools turning around, locking the technology away and saying they don’t have budget to continue And that’s not good for anyone.

Technology presents many challenges in education. But if we only look at the challenges instead of the solutions, it can be overwhelming. Almost every challenge has a solution, but the trick is that one size does not fit all.

It’s important to be flexible with how you implement technology within the education sector. For instance, when learners don’t have meals, what will giving a tablet fix? It’s certainly not going to change how they learn. And be ready for change – every environment and school is different.

Real flexibility means concurrently addressing the bigger issues while simultaneously introducing new technology, because waiting to fix something else first might mean missing out on introducing tech as an education enabler to the next generation.

This story was written by Andre Christian, Intel’s Education Business Development Manager for South Africa, and is part of a special series focussing on IT in Education, brought to association with Intel. See the complete collection (so far) by clicking here.