What do our children need more? Smart phones or smart schools?

As a high school teacher, I always found my biggest challenge to keep my students engaged in learning. Engaged: with all their will and love of learning. The same challenge hit me as a home schooling mother of my children. I frequently asked myself: What is fun for children? What do kids of 21st century enjoy doing? The answer was quite evident. The kids love digital technology; they thoroughly enjoy using it. But do we incorporate digital technology for our children’s education? Rather more specifically speaking, do we care about incorporating digital technology in our children’s education?

Arguably, children use more digital technology than their parents or teachers, not only for recreational purposes, but for their education too. No wonder, they look entirely bored and intensely out of place in a classroom setup, listening to their teachers’ instructions or scribbling numbers and letters on paper. Occasionally, they are allowed to watch some videos or to visit certain websites (which they can always watch or learn about while sitting cozily in their homes). But do they see the why concept of this arduous work every day, that endures for many years? If you ask a child, you’ll find the answer; quite disappointing for most of the parents and teachers though, this is how we are preparing our children for the future.

Ironically, the more we enjoy using digital technology generally, the more we convince ourselves of digital tools being the hindrance for our children’s education. Many educators, teachers and parents find this absurd to emphasise on the use of digital tools for learning purposes. Their concerns are genuine and at various occasions, even supported by statistics:

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, famous for administrating international academic ranking, called PISA test) published its report that relates students’ learning with their access to computers. This is what they found, “Students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes, even after controlling for social background and student demographics.”

However, a deeper reflection on the situation, forced the researchers to question:

  1. How these computers (or other digital tools) are engaging students in learning?
  2. Are the teachers trained to facilitate?
  3. Is the software being used appropriate?

Without deliberate consideration over such factors, even when technology is used for our children’s education, it fails to serve the purpose. The result: World’s renowned educational organisation AdvancED, in a recent research report, concludes: “While numerous surveys suggest that the pervasive use of tablets, smartphones, laptops and digital education content in the classroom is expanding and changing the role of teachers, the AdvancED study found little evidence of technology being used by students to strengthen learning in classrooms today”.

I wish wifi access, computer labs, smart tablets and smart boards in an elite school could ensure the use of digital technology for learning purposes but unfortunately they don’t. These tools need to be operated by skilled teachers. Teachers who know their subject content as well as how to deliver it in a fun way to digital technology addicted students. Teachers, even those who are skilled and enjoy the benefits of digital technology for their own growth, are unable to share their achievements with their students. The allocated time to “cover” the syllabus does not permit this and/or like their employers, teachers are also (still) unsure of the benefits of ed-tech integrated learning.

Hence, our kids are bereaved of smart schools. The schools making deliberate efforts to integrate digital technology in their teaching practice are few all over the world and are altogether nonexistent in Pakistan. Ironically, the schools that offer so-called highest quality education in lieu of monstrous amount of tuition fee are no exception. For our children, learning is thus a chore not a choice. Our 21st century digital generation is not only deprived of eureka feeling, it is forced to learn content which is of little or no use in future.

The solution? The authors of AdvancED report play it straight: “… it is no longer a question of “whether” but rather “how” to incorporate and leverage the use of technology and digital tools to boost learning inside our classrooms.”

Educationists and scientists across the developed countries are collaborating to find new and exciting ways to engage children in learning. Digital apps using VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality) and Artificial Intelligence have already been introduced in the field of education. This shows the aspiration not only for depth in learning, but for the expansion of learning spectrum as well. It is time that policymakers of our country put aside their smartphones for a while and start working on smart schools for our children.

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