As technology becomes ingrained in education, we look at how it can be leveraged better. Maya Thiagarajan enlightens us on the changes that need to be made to improve technology’s impact on education.
By Team ParentCircle
Sheela, mother to 12-year-old Ishaan, is worried. Her son's school has decided to replace textbooks with tablets for the next academic year and she's uncertain about how this move will affect his education. She has read many articles about the negative effects of technology and is not sure if this is a well thought out move by the school. Many parents today are in the same boat. Are you too one such parent?
Well, technology facilitates the teaching-learning process and ensures better student engagement. Therefore, today, many schools are introducing technology in a big way in their curriculum.
In an article titled, 'Many schools replacing textbooks with tablets', published in The Times of India on 8 April 2016, principals of various international schools talked about the benefits of digitisation in the classroom and how it helps both students and teachers. From reducing the weight of the school bag to improving a student's performance, experts cited various reasons in favour of introducing technology in the classroom.
Not yet convinced? Here are some reasons that may change your opinion.
With an increase in the use of technology in education, the role of a teacher is rapidly changing. From interactive whiteboards to learning analytics, and from online courses to e-books, technology has become an integral part of education today. In this hi-tech age, teachers need to reinvent themselves to make optimal use of technology for providing children with an improved learning experience.
ParentCircle speaks to Maya Thiagarajan — an education consultant and parenting author — to help answer some important questions about the effect of technology on the changing educational landscape.
How has the role of a teacher changed with the increase in the use of technology in education?
I think that the role of a teacher has changed tremendously today. A teacher has so many more resources at her disposal now, that in some ways she is more a curator of knowledge than a provider. Before, she was the person who was supposed to know all the answers; but, today students can just get these answers from the Internet. What a teacher can do is collect and curate really good resources on a topic and provide these to her students. For example, if she is teaching about rainforests, she can source videos, slideshows, PowerPoint presentations, images and other useful links about the topic and put them together for her students to use. By using technology, she can make a subject come alive. She can bring in visual elements to make the subject look more interesting. So, yes, I think that the role of a teacher has definitely changed. There’s a lot of personalised learning that teachers can curate, which allows students to learn at their own pace. Technology has revolutionised what could happen in a classroom.
How do you think students benefit from the use of technology in education?
Technology empowers students by enabling them to learn on their own and understand concepts better. They don’t need a teacher to provide them with the answers any more. The student has access to all this information on the Internet. Also, there are a lot of interesting online educational programmes that students can access through technology, which can serve as learning tools.
At the same time, I would caution against young children using technology. Children also need exposure to the natural world. They need to spend time outdoors and have human contact. Technology can’t replace all these other aspects of raising a child.
Do you think that technology should be included in a child’s education only after a certain age?
I think that it’s best if children use technology only after a certain age. I would be hesitant to use technology with very young children. They should be using their senses more and need to spend more time outdoors. They should be using their hands and playing with sand, water and clay to develop their motor skills, and not just sit in front of a screen. I don’t think enough research has been conducted to let us know how technology impacts brain development in the early years. So, it could be risky putting young children in front of screens or thinking that a screen can act as a replacement for a person reading to them or playing with them. I would not recommend the use of technology until the child is five- or six-years-old.
Do you think that the use of data in assessments will enable teachers to provide more personalised learning for each child based on his strengths and weaknesses?
Yes, I think that this would be helpful. But, it really depends on how the teacher uses the data. A lot of schools collect data, but what really matters is how this data is analysed and interpreted. What’s interesting about technology is that it can generate reports that will help a teacher understand where a child is getting stuck and how she can be helped.
Data should not be collected to understand who did or did not do well on a test. Rather, it should be collected to understand how each child can improve based on past performance. This is true even for non-technological data. A teacher needs to analyse the data to understand how she can help her students improve their understanding of a particular subject. The data itself is just a tool. How the teacher uses it can make a difference.
What changes do you think need to be made in the educational space in the 21st century?
I think the major change has to come in terms of the teacher's mindset. Teachers should realise that now students have access to a lot more information because of technology. A teacher must understand that her job is no longer to deliver huge amounts of information to students. Rather, it is to get students to ask the right questions, find different responses and think critically. In a lot of progressive educational circles we say that the role of a teacher has changed from a “sage on the stage to a guide by the side”. Historically, a teacher was like a sage or a guru telling the students what was right. In today’s world, a teacher is more of a guide who helps her students explore and discover for themselves what is right.
We also need to change our understanding of what the purpose of education is. In the 21st century, the purpose should not be to simply memorise information. This information is already available on your smartphone. The goal should be to get students to think, explore, make connections and apply skills.
In terms of an institutional change, we really need to consider our modes of assessment. Whatever is assessed is what gets taught. Because of this, teachers simply teach to test. They focus on pushing their students to score maximum marks in examinations instead of trying to improve the understanding of a subject. Because of this, I believe that the assessment model needs to be revamped at the institutional level. Another thing that needs to be revamped is teacher training. The existing B Ed programmes have become obsolete in today’s world, so I think they need to be reformed to account for the changes in the educational environment.
As parents, we need to understand that today's educational environment is very different from the one we grew up in. Also, while we offer technology to our child to help with learning, we should keep in mind that it is not a replacement for human contact.
Maya Thiagarajan is the founder of TREE, an organisation that recruits and trains teachers. She is also the author of 'Beyond The Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age'.
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