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How technology is shaping education

Published:Thursday | April 22, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Editor, Sir:

According to the annual Horizon Report released recently by the New Media Consortium in collaboration with the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), The 2010 Horizon Report: K-12 Edition focuses on the key technology areas that researchers identify as likely to have a major impact on educational institutions and other learning-focused organisations within the next five years.

The report identified the significant challenges facing education institutions and the trends that the authors identified as 'critical' including:

1. Inadequate digital media literacy training for teachers;

2. Out-of-date learning materials and teaching practices;

3. Lack of agreement on how education should evolve despite widespread agreement that change is needed;

4. A failure of education institutions to adapt to informal education, online education, and home-based learning; and

5. Lack of support for or acknowledgement of forms of learning that usually occur outside the classroom.

Real-life experiences

The report also stated that within the classroom, learning that incorporates real-life experiences is not occurring enough and is too often undervalued when it does take place. This challenge is an important one because it results in a lack of engagement in learning on the part of students who are seeking some connection between their world, their own lives, and their experience in school.

This comes hard on the heels of the announcement by Finance Minister Audley Shaw in his Budget presentation that the wage bill for the nation's teachers will be $43.7 billion, up from $23.8 billion the previous year. If my mathematics is correct, this shows that with a population of approximately 1.3 million students between the time of birth to age 21, it appears that the education of each Jamaican child is costing the nation approximately $350 million annually just for the teachers' pay alone, to say nothing about the other costs needed to support this form of education.

I am not alone globally in saying how technology must and will change education, especially now that all you ever need to know is available at the touch of a finger on the internet-linked computer, Blackberry or - most importantly - iPad.

With the availability of online education as accessible as a Google search engine, no student in this 21st century needs to travel any closer to a 'school' than to the desk on which his/her computer is located. Entire curricula from early childhood to university doctorates can be accessed and downloaded, studied and researched, exams written and marked, and educational progress supervised and maintained through online connections.

Growing trend

In this regard, the growing trend to home-schooling takes on an even greater importance in the educational possibilities available to parents, especially those concerned that the education system is crowded, understaffed, under-supervised and failing. With the e-Learning programme being implemented in Jamaica's education system, Jamaica should be trying to find ways to pay fewer and fewer teachers and instead use the 'master tutor' that the Internet has become. The internet can replace school books and pupils can track the K-12 curricula using online content through programmes such as Blackboard, sit the same exams as their peers and compare results.

With the abysmal national literacy levels and the low behavioural standards of students in our present system, it is questionable whether the Ministry of Education should continue to maintain the present method of education delivery.

The way we think of learning environments is changing. Traditionally, a learning environment has been a physical space, but the idea of what constitutes a learning environment is changing. The 'spaces' where students learn are becoming more community-driven, interdisciplinary, and supported by technologies that engage virtual communication and collaboration. This changing concept of the learning environment has clear implications for schools and the entire concept of formal education that must not be ignored.

I am, etc.,