The idea that technology can revolutionize education is not new. A century ago American inventor and businessman, Thomas Edison, predicted that with the invention of the motion picture books would become obsolete in the classroom. However, the form and function of the classroom has been immutable in incredible ways.
Is education yielding to technology? Schools around the world are gearing up in technology; computers, laptops, tablets, television, video games and cellphones. Kenya will not be left behind. The government has allocated Ksh17 billion in the 2014/2015 budget estimates to purchase laptops, train teachers, develop digital content and build computer labs. This is an incredible commitment, especially when more urgent challenges bedevil the education sector. The ministry of education argues that laptops in the classroom will address equity and education quality problems, and must be implemented at all costs.
Like with many of our social policy propositions, it is not clear to what extent Kenya’s laptop policy is based on research evidence, taking into account our context, curriculum content, the child and the teacher. Initial formulations of the laptop policy envisaged that laptops would be introduced in standard one. In the current budget laptops will be introduced in standard four. It is not clear how such determinations were made.
Experts have argued against introduction of computers into the classroom for children below the age of thirteen. Experts believe that in the early formative years – most of primary school – the goal is to foster social skills, creativity and problem solving that come with traditional peer interaction and play. In these formative years you do not want to stuff children with information. You want to light fires of curiosity, help children ask questions, understand and think about the world in the own way.
Asked if and when a computer becomes useful in the classroom Lisa Guernsey, author of “Screen Time: How Electronic Media – From Baby Videos to Educational Software – Affects Your Young Child”, said it depends on how the teacher uses it. Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, believes that old classroom model is outmoded and technology offers hope for more effective ways of teaching and learning.
A global consensus on the age at which technology is appropriate for learning is improbable. Such decisions will depend on national or subnational context, content, the child and the teacher. At the very least, the teacher must determine the answer to this question: how will technology help me engage with my students, or help them engage with each other and the subject matter more effectively?
With technology, education can be tailored to the learner’s needs. The revolutionary power of technology in education is the opportunity to move to a more adaptive learner-centered approach to education, a radical departure from a one-pace-fits-all, allowing each child to be taught at a different pace.
Technology also permits a flipped classroom, a pedagogical model where the typical teaching and student homework elements of a course are reversed. In the flipped classroom tasks are created and delivered to the learner through video, podcast, text and slides made available online or via tablet/laptop so the student or student groups can work on them on their own. Classroom sessions become transformed into spaces for active learning and student engagement, encouraging problem solving and collaboration. The teacher moves up the value chain, providing personalized attention, as a coach or guide on the side, to students who require remedial help.
Kenya’s narrow obsession with the laptop is worrying because we risk missing out on integrated technology options. Such integration would include high-speed 4G mobile networks, tablets, smartphones, capacity to handle big data, gaming and adaptive-learning software. Moreover, innovations like Khan Academy are going global with robust tools for students and teachers. For instance, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim has signed an agreement of cooperation to allow students, teachers, and scholars in Mexico to get access to education and training courses by translating them into Spanish. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation education arm, Amplify, demonstrates that game-based learning using video games can improve learning within instructional settings.
No amount of technology can replace teachers. Technology will not improve learning if we do not invest in good teachers. Technology can only enhance instructional effectiveness, deepening the exploration and discovery among learners. However, enhancement of pedagogy by technology can only occur through excellent teachers who are motivated to use and explore educational technology on their own.