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Are We Addressing the Right Problems?

Anil Mammen

Anil Mammen
Chief – Learning Design and Social Impact
Tata ClassEdge

Education technology should be guided by pedagogical considerations, learning sciences and the phenomenon of social learning in the context of schools, says Anil Mammen, Chief – Learning Design and Social Impact, Tata ClassEdge

Imagine two villages separated by a lake; the only way anyone could get from one village to the other is by swimming across the lake. Free travel between the villages is not easy. How do you solve this? You could start a boat service or you could build a simple wooden bridge. You could even build a concrete bridge so that vehicles could ply easily between the villages, encouraging more trade in the process. But how about an ornamental, architectural splendour of a bridge? Why not? It could bring in some tourism revenue for both the villages in addition to making transport more efficient (if you set aside the question of short-term cost-benefit).

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On the other hand, imagine someone trying to install a fixed size bridge between multiple villages regardless of whether they are separated by wide lakes or narrow rivulets. Such an act is neither a response nor a solution.

The use of technology in education is somewhat like the use of bridges in these scenarios. It could be an effective response to some fundamental problems or it could be just an object that can be placed anywhere without any tangible benefit.

So what are some of the problems plaguing our education systems? To begin with, the schools run by the government (except Kendriya Vidyalayas and Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas) have almost been reduced to ‘low income’ schools. With the weakening of public education system, we see schools being divided across economic hierarchies—from international schools for the very rich to government schools and budget private schools for the poor.

In fact, research studies on the social benefits of education mostly confirm what we intuitively know—that education can not only bring about economic improvements in people’s lives but also improve their awareness about health, civic sense and social rights. There is no doubt that educational inequity hurts our economy. But how do we respond to this problem?

Before jumping to conclusions, it might be wiser to pay
closer attention to what Andreas Schleicher, Director for Educa-tion and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris, says. He says that technology seems of little help in bridging the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students. And that, according to him, is the most disappointing finding in the latest OECD report on the use of technology in education. He couldn’t have put it better when he says, “Technology can amplify great teaching but it seems technology cannot replace poor teaching.”

That brings us to the question on pedagogical practices, both in government run schools and private schools. Are our practices in synch with the way children interact with the world outside? Are we able to engage our students and kindle in them some passion for the subjects we deal with in classrooms?

Can technology enhance engagement and make learning more interactive? Animations, simulations, and virtual laboratories are all fairly stimulating ways to engage the students. Therefore, technology can help address the problem of engagement, but with the caveat that it should be used in the right measure by an involved teacher. That is to say, a teacher who not only guides learners to discover the concept she is dealing with but also demands that students think about it, question it and articulate what they make of it.

Education technology should be guided by pedagogical considerations, learning sciences and the phenomenon of social learning in school contexts. Blending technology with chalk and talk is not the answer. Active economic and social agents of tomorrow (why tomorrow, even today) require deep conceptual understanding, critical thinking skills and the ability to innovate. For this, we need more intensive student-teacher interactions, multiple learning experiences and a genuine research orientation— not standardisation, conformity and an over-reliance on textbooks. If intellectual interactions in the outside world cannot progress without technology any more, you cannot keep technology away from schools either. But it is not yet time to close the door on the question of how.

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