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Kentaro Toyama There are no technology shortcuts to good education. For primary and secondary schools that are underperforming or limited in resources, efforts to improve education should focus almost exclusively on better teachers and stronger administrations. Information technology, if used at all, should be targeted for certain, specific uses or limited to well-funded schools whose fundamentals are not in question.
But, the conclusions are relevant for a broad class of primary and secondary schools in developed countries, as well. The history of electronic technologies in schools is fraught with failures.
Computers are no exception, and rigorous studies show that it is incredibly difficult to have positive educational impact with computers. Technology at best only amplifies the pedagogical capacity of educational systems; it can make good schools better, but it makes bad schools worse.
Technology has a huge opportunity cost in the form of more effective non-technology interventions. Many good school systems excel without much technology. The inescapable conclusion is that significant investments in computers, mobile phones, and other electronic gadgets in education are neither necessary nor warranted for most school systems.
In particular, the attempt to use technology to fix underperforming classrooms or to replace non-existent ones is futile. And, for all but wealthy, well-run schools, one-to-one computer programs cannot be recommended in good conscience.
All of the evidence stands on its own, but I will tie them together with a single theory that explains why technology is unable to substitute for good teaching: Quality primary and secondary education is a multi-year commitment whose single bottleneck is the sustained motivation of the student to climb an intellectual Everest.
Though children are naturally curious, they nevertheless require ongoing guidance and encouragement to persevere in the ascent. Caring supervision from human teachers, parents, and mentors is the only known way of generating motivation for the hours of a school day, to say nothing of eight to twelve school years.
While computers appear to engage students which is exactly their appealthe engagement swings between uselessly fleeting at best and addictively distractive at worst. No technology today or in the foreseeable future can provide the tailored attention, encouragement, inspiration, or even the occasional scolding for students that dedicated adults can, and thus, attempts to use technology as a stand-in for capable instruction are bound to fail.
With respect to sustaining directed motivation, even the much-maligned rote-focused drill-sergeant disciplinarian is superior to any electronic multimedia carnival. The author retracts this statement and agrees with BonTempo, as his articles actually suggest that even this is not possible if neither teachers nor students are motivated to begin with.
Subscribe now to follow this Educational Technology Debate via email updates sent to your inbox. The Repetitive Cycle of Technology. For anyone concerned with high-tech in schools, two books are required reading as histories of technology and education. The Classroom Use of Technology Sincewhich overviews the history of films, radio, television, and computers in American education up to the early s.
Saving Education from the False Promise of Technology. Both authors consider the record of technology in schools and find it wanting. They reveal that while technologies can have positive educational impact in restricted instances, successes pale in comparison to failures overall.
By not knowing this past history, we seem condemned to repeat it over and over and over. One point that both authors make is that there is a repetitive cycle of technology in education that goes through hype, investment, poor integration, and lack of educational outcomes. The cycle keeps spinning only because each new technology reinitiates the cycle.
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