No need to throw the technology out with the phones: the false dichotomy of 'technology v no technology'

Janet Downs's picture
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‘The tech gurus of Silicon Valley know that screens do not belong in the classroom’

Times leader 10 February 2018 (£)

This isn’t new.  The Daily Mail ran the story in 2011.  Google executive Alan Eagle said, 'I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school.’

Leave aside the hypocrisy of an executive of a company heavily marketing devices to schools saying there’s no need,  is it true, as the Times claims that technology has no place in the classroom?

The Times editorial paints a binary picture: profligate use of phones v total exclusion.  But in focussing only on phones, the Times ignores how technology can be used effectively.

Of course, technology can be abused.  Computers shouldn’t be used for baby-sitting.  Neither should pupils be plonked in front of them to follow pre-determined curricula using materials often provided by the same tech giants who don’t want their children exposed to such learning.

The Times editorial is a plug for The Waldorf School of the Peninsula (WSP), a Steiner private school in California.    Steiner schools aren’t without controversy  mainly surrounding the dubious racial views of their founder.  But there’s much positive in Steiner education: emphasising creativity as well as academic; concentrating on experiential education, critical thinking and enquiry.  Enough, in short, to give schools minister Nick Gibb apoplexy.

Technology has a place in education.  Interactive white boards, for example, aren’t just substitutes for blackboards and chalk.  Read, Write, Inc, for example, one of the phonics programmes endorsed by the  now-closed matched-funding scheme,   has interactive white board activities.   As a former teacher of GCSE English, I would have appreciated the ability to beam play performances into my classroom.  And smart phones, quite rightly condemned when used inappropriately, are pocket dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopaedia and cameras.

The Times says children can better focus when ‘not preoccupied with their Instagram accounts.’  That’s correct – there is no excuse for accessing Instagram, Snapchat or whatever during class time.  Any use of technology, smart phones or not, should be at the sole direction of the teacher.

But in using WSP to support ‘no technology’, the Times misses the subtlety in the school’s approach.  WSP explains: 

The media attention on WSP has largely focused on what we consider a false dichotomy: technology or no-technology?’

The website extolls its ‘slow-tech approach’ but doesn’t reject technology altogether.  ‘Technological literacy’, WSP says, is ‘a crucial 21st century skill’.  Where WSP differs from schools using technology in early years is that WSP leaves exposure until adolescence when it believes pupils ‘have the developmental maturity to know how, why, and when to use technology as a tool.’

The school endorsed by the ‘High-Tech Fathers’, then, doesn’t ban screens altogether.    Its website even has a picture of pupils using laptops.  It uses them when it thinks they are appropriate – which is what all good schools do.  

AFTERTHOUGHT 

The dearth of women on the boards of tech companies is unwittingly emphasised by WSP.  It carries testimonials from ‘High Tech Fathers’.  It appears women, especially mothers, can’t be high-tech executives.  

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