Computers in primary school classrooms are not inherently a good thing
I read with interest the report on the Central Advisory Board of Education on the use of technology in education,and broadly agree with their conclusion that computers should not enter the classroom until
upper primary school level.
The modern fascination with new technology makes me think of what Henry David Thoreau said: Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys,which distract our attention from serious things. I agree with much of what American educator and media theorist Neil Postman has said on this matter. According to him,one of the dangers of new technologies is that they become myth-like and assume a status they dont deserve,and we come to idolise them in an unthinking way. It then becomes difficult to question new technology,and those that do are viewed as Luddites. It can also then become hard to argue against computers and promote some of the very valuable invisible intangibles which exist in schools.
I am against introducing individual computers in primary school classrooms as I think the focus at this level should be on developing basic literacy and numeracy skills,and Ive not seen any convincing evidence which suggests teaching these through laptops actually does it better. Some states in America have spent millions of dollars getting laptops into every classroom,but putting $100 million into teacher training and helping schools to understand what they do would go a lot further than dishing laptops out to children in primary schools.
The invisible intangibles I mentioned are the quality of relationships in a classroom that improve the quality of a teaching environment. Human relationships and the ethos developed in the classroom are the most important but most difficult things to develop. In my opinion,it is far more valuable to spend money on improving interaction between the pupil and the teacher. Much of the invasion of technology into schools is driven by slick marketing by those with profit-based interests.
I believe if an approach to
education is philosophically sound it will work under a tree in an impoverished rural environment as well as in an urban classroom. If we think our system of education stands or falls by the technology we throw at it,I
believe theres something wrong with the approach.
The danger with the computer and e-mails is they favour immediacy over reflection,information and data over knowledge.
Everything today seems to be about information,information,information. But the fundamental questions shouldnt be about the information we have access to; they should be about what we think of as good and bad,what we think of as right and wrong,and what qualities of character we need to interact with one another.
The problems of the world wont be solved by throwing information around. We are drowning in a glut of information fed by technology,but what we lack today is the narrative,the loom that allows us to knit it together into something that enables us to survive as a human race. The old narratives of family and religion are increasingly threatened today,but they fundamentally gave meaning and purpose to peoples lives,which you dont find in fragmented information and uninterpreted facts.
We almost assume a classroom full of technology is a good thing,but its not,its value neutral,and can go either way. Here at Woodstock,we see technology as a useful tool,and we continue to explore ways in which technology can be used to further the goal of a Woodstock education. But our main focus will continue to be on the teacher to facilitate a learning process with a young person,through a certain quality of relationship,and through an approach to education that is engaging,challenging and experiential. By experiential I mean an approach to education where the child engages with the world first hand,not through technology as proxy. I want to see our students getting out of the classroom more and exploring the natural world around us. Otherwise,technology becomes the fundamental frame of reference through which we see the world.
At weddings and other events,Im always amazed by how many people engage with reality through the lens of the camera. It is as if the LCD screen has become the fundamental paradigm of experience. It is almost as if we cannot taste life first hand now,and I am loath for young people to spend their lives saturated in new technologies in an uncritical manner. I want them to be grounded in more fundamental human realities,to experience life in all its intensity and possibility.
At Woodstock,we want to focus not only on how to make the best use of technology but also to be critical and discerning users of such tools,and to learn to appreciate the deep values of community and relationships. We want technology to enrich our curriculum,not become our curriculum.
The writer is principal of Woodstock School,Mussoorie,firstname.lastname@example.org