Gadgets might have to give way as chalk and pencils endure

22nd October 2010 at 01:00
Old-fashioned materials are teachers' flexible friends in a technology-heavy classroom of the future

In the "classroom of the future", the most impressive teaching technology could turn out to be pencils and chalk.

The experimental classroom was put together by international experts on teaching at The Education Project conference in Bahrain, which attracted big education names from 50 countries.

The room was equipped with handheld voting devices, a large projector screen and the latest interactive whiteboard, among many other gadgets. But the more high-tech equipment suffered glitches, including the loss of a live feed to an educational computer game being played by students in the Netherlands.

Instead, the show was stolen by a digital technology expert from Edinburgh, Ewan McIntosh, who covered a wall with chalk notes and doodles, assisted by the co-founder of the Tinkering School in California.

Mr McIntosh, director of NoTosh Digital Media, said: "I think we fetishise technology at the expense of thinking about physical space. Chalk is much more interactive than an interactive whiteboard."

Pencils, featuring pictures of Mickey Mouse, were another attraction for the 500 delegates. They were a gift from Dr Kathleen Hagstrom, the principal of the Walt Disney Magnet School in Chicago. "There will always be a place for a pencil," Dr Hagstrom said.

The role of technology in education was a recurring topic. But Kapil Sibal, India's minister for human resource development, suggested it was a less pressing concern for many schools in his country, as some areas still did not have electricity and the education system was missing more than 1.2 million teachers.

Computer giants Microsoft, Cisco and Intel march on, however. They are developing a new form of computerised assessment, which they believe will give a more nuanced check of how pupils understand their work. The system will make pupils go through processes, effectively making them reveal their working as they solve problems.

Systems from this project, Assessment amp; Teaching of 21st Century Skills, are due to be trialled by about five countries from next year.


The small Middle Eastern island nation of Bahrain (pop 1.1 million) has begun paying some of its best teachers more than heads in an effort to keep them in the classroom.

Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa al-Khalifa, chief executive of the country's economic development board, says it would send out a message to school staff that teaching should be seen as "the noble profession it is".

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