“You, the children, yours is the great responsibility to educate your parents, teach them to live together in harmony…To your tender and loving hands, the future of the Nation is entrusted... On your scholastic development, the salvation of the Nation is dependent…you carry the future … in your school bags.”
- Dr. Eric Williams, Caribbean Historian/Politician
Technology advances have made it easier and more affordable to bring digital content in to the classroom. Mobile technology, digital media, and social networks are radically changing the way students learn and how teachers teach. In spite of the criticisms and resistance technology-based efforts invariably get from within and outside the education system, the signs all point to an undeniable and irresistible trend: Technology is, yet again, transforming how education is delivered and how it is received.
Increasingly, the measure of our successful march into the future is what digital content is being delivered by electronic devices in our children’s school bags, pockets, and classrooms.
Digital Learning Environments
Digital learning environments take advantage of modern information and communications technology to enhance the learning environment and in some cases, completely redefine it. Digital learning environments allow educators far greater flexibility in adapting education content delivery to student learning. It can also facilitate more dynamic tracking of student performance and educator effectiveness.
The US Education Secretary Arne Duncan was recently quoted as saying "Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete." The motivation behind the statement is no different for the US than it any other country. The education system has to not only keep up with the technology times; it must keep up advances in other countries that are moving faster to adopt totally digital learning environments.
Digital textbooks and the wider global trend toward open-sourcing education also create new education possibilities. Digital texts can free students from the burden of overpriced textbooks. Access to free online education content also provides anyone who has a desire to learn with access to the educational resources to do so at their leisure.
The trend toward greater Internet-based education content delivery is increasingly facilitating exciting new options for the education sector. The combination of free online courses and lessons via YouTube, Khan Academy; platforms like NotesMaster, Coursera and Desire2Learn; and more affordable mobile access devices like the Apple iPad and Android-based tablets helps power the trend. In addition, government and civil society initiatives to put computers and specially tailored digital content into schools is an important catalyst for new education technology initiatives.
The attractiveness of digital content in the education environment is powerful. Digital content, including digital textbooks and multimedia aids, offer a learning experience that is more interactive, engaging and customizable for students as well educators. Digital content also allows students to get updated materials quickly, bringing savings to households, schools and governments in the process.
Digital Curriculum for the Digital Age
Still, technology in education, however, is not just about laptops, tablets, ebooks and Internet access. It is about making the curriculum a truly digital curriculum. Today’s curriculum must be specifically tailored to move students beyond being mere users of the Internet and equip them to be functional, creative and collaborative contributors in an increasingly technology-driven economy. Students need to be equipped with work skills relevant to the workplace of the future.
This presents interesting opportunities for developing countries, as well as for economically disadvantaged pockets in developed nations. Regions with smaller population sizes have the greatest chance of effecting system-wide transformation. Additionally, those with challenging financial and human resource constraints should also have the greatest incentive to innovate. With the right leadership and enough will, a relevant digital education agenda can be developed and implemented anywhere.
As digital content and new technologies start entering classrooms, education administrators and schools can evolve policies that cater for the use of new devices, accept new methods of content delivery and provide adequate professional training for teachers. Schools can highlight which particular technologies and approaches proven to be effective in meeting common educational objectives. In this way, institutions that are a part of a new, virtual assessment community can provide an important interface for defining local, regional and national education policy and implementation best practices.
However, with many of these challenges, it is up to the schools, principals, teachers and parents, not always central government authorities, to devise appropriate solutions. Local schools can join together to facilitate piloting of innovations and promising technologies and to share the resulting assessments.
Examples abound. NorthGate College, a private secondary school in Trinidad and Tobago, recently announced an initiative which links technology infrastructure upgrades with staff training and curriculum adaptions. The program, called Jumpstart, is supported by BrightPath Foundation and introduces students and teachers to new more interactive ways of interfacing with the syllabus and preparing for the real-world. The discoveries and lessons will be shared with other local schools and fed back to the regional examination council.
Counting the Costs
Transitioning to digital learning environments is not without its challenges. Technology and the support it requires, comes at a price. Educators should legitimately be concerned about the cost of infrastructure, devices, software and the responsibility to ensure that every student has equitable access to education technology. These concerns are compounded by the rapid pace of technology evolution and the risk of investing in systems that can quickly become obsolete or irrelevant. However, inaction and incorrect action also come at a price, one that may be too steep for society to bear.
To be successful, a school or national level education-technology strategy must tie access-devices to digital content development and teacher training; to policy that incorporates new methods of course-delivery and assessment; and to technology innovators and entrepreneurs.
Filling the Digital School Bag
Beyond the classroom, there is also real opportunity to create a sustainable market for digitally-based education content and technologies. Working together, education stakeholders can provide prospective local technology sector players with key insights to tailor locally developed technology products and digital content for the education market. Tablets and laptops need digital content. Someone has to create it or covert it where it already exists in digital form. The competencies needed to supply the digital content needs of the local education market, are the same skills that allow our digital content producers to penetrate other global markets.
Education stakeholders, including policymakers, civil society groups and private sector firms, should move with urgency to take advantage of these opportunities. This all helps to create an environment that is hospitable to innovations and innovators. The payoff in the form of more relevant, more effective, and more widely utilized educational content AND technologies can only lead to better outcomes for students, teachers and the wider society.
The youth do indeed carry the future in their school bags. To help them usher in that future, we all have a responsibility to ensure that the content of those bags and of their learning environments are increasingly digital and increasingly tailored to deliver the knowledge, skills and values relevant to their development.
To do this we must accelerate efforts to upgrade our education sector and give our students the best chance of seizing the world of possibilities access to quality education provides.
Education 2.0 - Preparing for the future
“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”
- Karl Fisch, “Did You Know"
Preparing students of the world of tomorrow, requires us to re-engineer the classrooms of today. This excellent infographic by EnvisioningTech provides with an interesting look at how technology in the classroom is expected to evolve.