Monday, June 11th, 2012 | education
A thousand years ago a person could prosper without being literate; this is no longer possible today. Thirty years ago a person could prosper without being digitally literate; this is likewise no longer possible today. The workplace demands both literacy and digital skills and someone who enrols for a university course without them is at a disadvantage. These skills must be developed before a child leaves school.
It follows that the debate is no longer “should we use technology in school” but rather “how can we accelerate the introduction of technologies into our classrooms”. In other parts of the world technology has been a part of classrooms for decades but in South Africa we are lagging behind. While educators in other countries are already experiencing the power of technology as teaching and learning tools, we are grappling with the basics.
Technology can be used in a classroom in different ways.
The first one is to teach learners about technology. Just as good handwriting, spelling and grammar skills are basic building blocks for learning, so a sound understanding of technology is required. It is important to know how to use a word processor, a spreadsheet, presentation software and how to communicate effectively through email. These are basic skills and we may assume that learners will pick them up by themselves, but we only have to look at the way they write SMS messages to understand that much more is required than merely knowing where to press the buttons.
Teaching with technology is the second level for which to aim. Technology can be a powerful teaching aid. Think about a teacher who uses a laptop and a data projector in the classroom to spice up lessons by showing interesting pictures or video clips. This can spark off interesting class discussions, focussing the attention of learners on the learning material. An interactive whiteboard can take this one step further, encouraging further interactivity. If a teacher has a trolley with netbooks available, she can use this for drill and practise exercises to reinforce numeracy skills. Innovative educators will find many ways in which technology can be used as a teaching tool.
Teaching through technology is the third level to which teaches must aspire in the classroom: technology devices can assume the role of tutors to assist teachers with teaching and learners with learning. It becomes a tool for learners to find information, evaluate it, analyse it, and synthesize it to build knowledge. Collaboration skills can be developed as well as other critical thinking skills required for twenty-first century living.
We have a long way to go to reach this third stage – most schools are still battling to bring technology into classrooms to get stage one off the ground!
The state alone can’t make technology in education happen, even though we are looking at the national and provincial education departments to take the lead. NGOs and corporate organizations can play a major role in making technology in the classroom a reality.
The education system faces many challenges – making technology a part of the classroom experience is only one of them. It is, however, a critical one if we do not want the digital divide to widen even further.