Some recent items in the news:
Education officials in South Korea, as reported by BBC News on October 18, 2011, have decided that starting with the 2015 school year, all textbooks will be removed from classrooms in the country and all student resources will be digitized and accessed online.
Beverly Public School in Toronto, Ontario, has developed a program of learning where students with autism do their work on tablets (as reported on the program 60 Minutes on October 23, 2011). The program has seen a significant rise in the amount and quality of learning that these students have achieved.
The New York Times reported recently (September 3, 2011) that despite huge investments in technology and extensive computer use by students, schools in Kyrene School District in Arizona have seen test scores stagnate, while more traditional schools in the state have seen their scores rise.
The Globe and Mail reported (November 28, 2011) that at Okanagan Mission Secondary School in Kelowna, British Columbia, math students can watch their teacher present daily lessons on YouTube at home, allowing them to work one-on-one and in groups when they are at school.
The Hole in the Wall in India (The Globe and Mail, December 1, 2011) has mounted computers in the walls of buildings in several urban slums to make information available to students who cannot afford their own computers.
This list of examples of how technology has affected schools and learning could be extended indefinitely. Some of the examples are exciting, and some are discouraging, but there can be no doubt about the fact that the way learning happens has changed and continues to change dramatically. In this issue, we will examine some of those changes and consider how we might deal with them in our Christian schools, because it is clear that we are, and will continue to be, affected by them. For example, most parents and students will use the availability of technology as one standard for determining whether a school is an attractive place to learn. It is also becoming clear that technology can, in certain circumstances, be a significant factor in improving learning.
Christian schools, however, face some significant challenges in this area. We are very aware of the costs of introducing significant technology into our classrooms and then keeping it up to date. The Arizona school district noted above has made an investment of $33 million in various technologies since 2005, and the projected cost of South Korea’s plan to digitize resources is $2 billion. Many of our schools struggle to manage their budgets. How will they manage these additional costs?
Perhaps of greater importance is the question of the very nature of the learning process. The introduction of technology into our schools changes the role of teachers and students. It changes the structure of the classrooms. It has expanded the quantity of information available to students and teachers enormously, and there is a growing awareness that it has an impact on brain function and learning. The day of the teacher as the source of all information is clearly long gone.
It is important that these challenges are seen as opportunities. While it is true that our schools are changing and will continue to do so, we will miss these opportunities if we see these changes as passing fads that can safely be ignored. It is better for us to examine these changes carefully, and understand how we can incorporate them by considering how we teach and how our students learn in ways that are authentic, that honor our mission and vision as Christian schools, and that preserve the commitment to communities of learning that we have always valued.