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IN THE CANDID CORNER – The cyber challenge

Matthew Farley

IN THE CANDID CORNER – The cyber challenge

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Technology will never replace the teacher but those who use technology will replace those who don’t. – Author unknown.
October is celebrated as Education Month in Barbados. The theme is Overcoming Educational Challenges In The 21st Century. It speaks to a number of challenges, many of which are not new.
One of the key challenges facing education at this time in our development is the extent to which there are a number of new and emerging careers that have rendered traditional qualifications inadequate.
Sir Ken Robinson made the observation that we may be educating students for jobs that no longer exist.
In this sense schools are constantly playing catch-up. But he made a more substantial point that makes much of what we do in schools seem ludicrous. It is that education is more about unlocking students’ creativity, but the reality is that none of us is sure that we have the right key.
Implicit in his assertion is that we have been putting the wrong key in our “educational keyholes” for too long without even realizing it. In our frustration, we blame the children. In our frustration we label them as ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder], we call them slow learners and we throw in a “demon” comment or two.
So the problem is always the student. It is never the teacher. It is never the system.
As we celebrate Education Month 2011, it would be useful to examine some of the real challenges facing our schools and stakeholders. Students face a major challenge trying to discern which careers to pursue.
This is not an easy challenge since jobs change often. By the time we ascertain the skills needed for a particular career, its profile goes through enough change to make it no longer recognizable. It is for this reason that students must be given all the necessary information so they can make as precise a decision as possible.
Contingent on this point is the idea that students must now be encouraged to be multi-talented and multiskilled. No longer can we grow up believing we are born to do only one job from the cradle to the grave.
The average American changes jobs at least three times in his working life and many hold two or three simultaneously. As the traditional areas of occupation contract, self-employment and multi-employment must be critical to how we initiate students into the world of work.
Another challenge which this year’s message highlights is the pressure of expectations which confronts many of our students. There are parental expectations which may not be in sync with the student’s capacity or ability or interests. In such cases students are forced to pursue their parents’ dreams and this often leads to entering fields of endeavour which bring them no satisfaction.
On the other hand, given how our schools are tiered, low expectations of some schools destroy the self-esteem of their students. As such, very often there is little relation between public perception and expectations and the reality of what actually happens in the school.
Many students falter as they meander their way through the maze of expectations. As the message notes, the pressure of expectations can be a big stumbling block.
The challenge that presents the greatest impediment to today’s secondary school cohort is the deluge of information with which today’s student is forced to grapple. While this is not a school problem per se, it impacts on students’ ability to handle information. In fact, it is one of the new literacies that must now be taught by schools. It will solve the problem of students downloading information without being able to peruse for usefulness and relevance to an assignment or an issue being researched.
But there is another dimension to the technology challenge. It is the extent to which it is misused and abused in cyber terms. According to, “on average, students visit social networking sites one or more times a day and spend 32 minutes per visit”.
A relatively small segment of students report using social networking sites for their college search (about one-fifth).
In conclusion, while the technology makes this era one of the most fascinating and exciting since the Renaissance, there is a sense in which the full potential of the technology is yet to fully tapped. There is much more that cellular phones, iPods, PSPs, social networking sites and the Internet can bring to the culture of pedagogy in the 21st century.
This is a challenge that must engage all the stakeholders in education and one that should not be seen as a negative or a distraction. It is within this challenge that a myriad of opportunities lies that will locate our schools and educational institutions at the bleeding edge of the technology culture.
Matthew D. Farley is a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum On Education, and  social commentator. Email [email protected]