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Still Wondering if Technology Will Change Education Proves We're Already Too Far Behind

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There is a great deal of debate about whether or not technology will revolutionize education. To me the debate itself points out a problem. With the number of free and low-cost educational resources that technology has made available it should have, at least to an extent. The fact that it hasn't points to a problem with the system overall.

A little while back my friend Tessa Sproule left the CBC to start Vubblepop, a news site that is proving to be spectacular for asking provocative questions and for providing depth and context to current events.

Thursday Vubblepop posted two conflicting videos on the question of technology and education. Both videos (below) raise interesting and valid points but tend to ignore the key issue which is that the education should currently be rapidly evolving, but is not.

I believe that the root of the problem is that the current public system, in both the United States and Canada, is designed for parents and politicians and not children. The current focus seems to be on keeping the children safe and comfortable in an inexpensive non-day-care environment, on teaching them to recite the answers to trivial pursuit questions so that they can score well on standardized tests (allowing parents and politicians to evaluate the school) and on encouraging them to train for particular lifestyles and career paths. For example, there are concerns about the health and activity levels of adults so physical fitness is pushed in the schools, there is a perceived current and future need for people in science and technology so these paths are particularly promoted.

If we want to get the most out of our schools, the education system should be designed exclusively for children and for the world in which we currently live.

Standardized testing has always been a bad idea and not really reflective of academic success. Now that we live in a world where basic facts can be Googled on an as-needed basis there is little point in forcing children to memorize hundreds of facts, simply so they can recite them back later.

Over time it is going to get faster and easier to access growing piles of information. It seems to me that what is important is teaching children, from an early age, what to do with that information. Obviously it is important to teach reading and writing but beyond that someone has to teach students how to gather, filter, analyze, evaluate and think critically about all of that information. Literacy has to go beyond the simple definition of 'knowing how to read' and expand to include media literacy, data literacy, math literacy, scientific literacy and critical thinking.

It is also becoming a bit pointless to steer children toward specific fields, at least during primary education. A child born today will likely enter a world where having a job is the exception, not the norm and where work plays a much smaller role in the lives of most people. Given the speed with which the economy and the workplace are changing it seems a bit pointless to devote resources to steering students in a specific direction.

In my opinion, it is also critically important that students be taught empathy from an early age. This is important from a anti-bullying, anti-sexism, anti-racism, anti-homophobia etc., perspective. It goes far beyond that however; empathy is going to be critical to students' ability to filter, analyze and think critically about information. Evaluating the source of information and understanding the perspective of people impacted by events will be necessary for critical analysis.

Finally, I think civics needs to return to the curriculum in a major way. It is important that young people understand government, how laws are made and how they can have an impact federally, regionally and locally. Civics education seems to have been devalued at all levels while physical fitness increased. The reasons for this but it is a bad formula unless the goal is non-voting sports fans.

In short, rather than trying to turn out members of a particular profession I believe our education system should attempt to turn out decent people, capable of empathy, engaged in their communities and capable of critically evaluating information for lifelong learning.

Whatever the priorities may be, education needs to be revolutionized by technology. It is foolish not to incorporate the volumes of free information made available online through universities, libraries, galleries, scientific journals and sites like, YouTube, Vimeo, Wikipedia and others.


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