The use of technology in schools may not be improving students’ grades, but it is crucial to 21st-century life.
A recent report from think tank the OECD made pretty grim reading for tech fans. Educational systems around the world that have invested heavily in technology, it said, have seen ‘no noticeable improvement’ in tests for literacy, numeracy and science. The world’s best performing countries, meanwhile, have been ‘very cautious about using technology in their classrooms,’ according to the OECD’s education director Andreas Schleicher.
What’s going on here? Wasn’t technology supposed to transport schools into a 21st century of learning bliss? Well, kind of. The trouble is, it’s easy to boast about providing 2,000 new tablets or software subscriptions for use in a school – but it’s very difficult to work out what it means to use these devices well.
Schools need to help pupils engage as richly as possible with the real world, and this means supporting them in using technology confidently. But this is very different from saying that more technology is always a good thing; or even that the skills needed to use technology well are best taught onscreen.
I often use the idea of being a ‘digital gourmet’ to describe what a healthy relationship with technology looks like. Loving and appreciating technology doesn’t mean using it indiscriminately any more than loving food means constantly stuffing your face with hamburgers. In fact – and this is true of both hamburgers and social media – knowing how not to stuff your face is perhaps the most important lesson of all.
Information is cheap, these days. It’s everywhere. An answer for almost anything is already out there. When it comes down to it, it’s not answers but questions that really count — and these are my top three. How good are you at asking questions other people haven’t thought of? How good are you at finding out where someone else’s answer came from? And how ready are you to change your mind if you get an answer you weren’t expecting?
Learning this kind of critical thinking is about more thanhardware or software. It needs space and time and concentration; it needs focus and imagination; it needs human interaction and introspection.