Technophobia has no place in education

6th January 2012 at 00:00

You don't have to be one of Santa's little helpers to know that Apple's iPad was at the top of the wish list for most kids this Christmas. In a recent Nielsen survey, the iPad was the most desired consumer electronic device among US kids this holiday season, with a whopping 44 per cent of kids in the six-to-12 age group putting it at the top of their list.

Apple does very well this year, taking the top three positions - the iPad was followed by the iPod touch, then the iPhone. Non-Apple tablets make a good showing at number four. The traditional fare of Nintendos, PlayStations and Xboxes lag way behind, with non-Apple smartphones less desired than a TV for the bedroom (HD, no doubt). By contrast, last year the same research showed that the iPad was still on top at 31 per cent, but this was closely followed by a laptopPC at 29 per cent.

I haven't seen the stats for UK kids, but I doubt they are much different. A walk around my local Toys R Us in south London confirms this trend being reflected on the shop floor, where Android tablets start at just #163;79 and brands such as LeapFrog and VTech offer tablets for toddlers. If you're a teacher, why not - as a bit of post-Christmas fun - survey the kids in your class or school and find out what was on their list and what they received?

But what has this got to do with education, learning and schools? Well, I'd make a fairly safe bet and suggest that there were an awful lot of kids who woke up on Christmas morning with something shiny under the tree, something that will entertain and please but that will also be their gateway to all human knowledge. Alas, the majority of these powerful personal communicators will be banned when these lucky children return to school in January.

In times of brutal cuts to school budgets we ban these valuable tools for learning at the school gates; we confiscate smartphones; we eschew the evil iPod; no YouTube, no Facebook, no iMessage for you, Tom Brown. How much longer can we ignore the extremely powerful tools that are driving so much learning outside our schools? How can we be locked in pedagogical denial of the same tools that we use in our everyday lives?

The wrong way to consume computers

No, let's continue to opt our kids out of the 21st century and submit them to disruption-free technologies designed to reinforce and support 19th-century teaching practice in ways that are entirely irrelevant to our learners' future and are intended to prevent their autonomy. Instead, let's give them interactive whiteboards, student response systems, virtual learning environments and other technologies for the chronologically displaced while congratulating ourselves on digitising their learning experience - anything that maintains the role of the teacher as factory worker rather than liberating them to actually practise the art of teaching.

Let's teach kids how to consume computing in the form of ICT. After all, they'll never get a job if all they know is how to shoot and edit a video, upload to YouTube and then virally distribute it around their social networks. Heaven forbid that they won't know how to craft a letter if all they know how to do is to write and publish a blog. Having all those facts you're expected to memorise and regurgitate at your fingertips will make you lazy and distracted. And while we want them to collaborate with their fellow learners, never - repeat, never - should they be allowed to do it in an examination room or anywhere we can't see it.

Back to the, er, future

This is the world of the 1950s and the solution to national recovery and well-being is, apparently, more prep and back- to-basics education, rather than being equipped for the present and the future. Our leaders appear bent on returning us to it - a time where one would leave school and take a job for life in a factory or an office - the type of jobs that are becoming increasingly scarce in this part of the world.

Before Christmas, I had the pleasure of attending the beauty parade of south London secondary schools with my 10-year-old daughter. Without a single exception, every one had an anti-smartphone policy and every one, like my daughter's primary, banned outright the bringing to school of personal learning tools such as her iPad.

I sat through a remarkable talk by the headteacher of a secondary school that would be opening this year. His talk hit all my buttons. He acknowledged some of the challenges our learners face in the future, the importance of learner autonomy, and how he demanded a learning environment that was fit for this century. Then he nixed it.

First, he was proud to announce that there would be a 1:1 computing policy throughout the new school. However, he was undecided on whether this should be tablets or netbooks. He could, of course, have asked Santa, but instead he was asking his managed service provider, like a chef asking the plumber what to serve for lunch.

When asked, he confirmed that these devices would remain at school - pupils couldn't take them home. Well, naturally: learning starts and stops at the school gates in the 21st century. And as for smartphones... Well, don't get me started.

Graham Brown-Martin is the founder of Learning Without Frontiers. The LWF 2012 conference will take place on 25-26 January at Olympia, London. For further details visit www.learningwithoutfrontiers.comlwf12.

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