Education, which should be helping youth to understand and adapt to their revolutionary new environments, is instead being used merely as an instrument [to impose] upon retribalised youth the obsolescent values of the dying literate age. Our entire educational system is reactionary, oriented to past values and past technologies. – Marshall McLuhan (1969 interview)
“We should not use instances of technological abuse in schools as an excuse for banning mobile technology.”
The words of the ever thought-provoking Ryan Straughn to speech day listeners at Combermere School recently.
In another place, Minister of Education Ronald Jones hinted that the ban on “cellphones” in schools may be lifted.
And virtually everybody said, “Amen”, meaning that schools should move post haste to Technology Avenue. With the right monitoring and controls, they seem to think, great things await in school learning.
I wouldn’t run so fast to make claims that great success in schools (in the way we measure that success) will be the harvest of every child coming to school with a smartphone (note I did not say cellphone).
I listen to and read a tremendous amount about the tech world (in relation to schools and otherwise) and nobody is yet making that claim.
While I strongly believe in the deep integration of the new digital technology in schools, I think we are missing a big something. I am not generally hearing ideas for the use of the technology in schools that embrace the fundamentally world-altering essence of these tools.
Sadly, a lot of the ideas about the use of these tools in education evidently view them in the same way that we previously viewed the overhead projector, the television, the VCR, the desktop computer, the laptop, PowerPoint presentations, even the smartboard – as simply newer delivery tools.
So even as we busy ourselves spawning ideas for their use in delivering the same old education (Rhonda Blackman in a guest column in last Friday’s WEEKEND NATION shared some interesting ones), we betray a short-changing mindset.
Get this, please: the new media (both the devices and the apps) are not simply newer delivery means – they are paradigm-shifting tools!
The smartphone and the tablet, in particular, are not the educational equivalent of a sharper knife or an electronic slicer, which do the same old things in faster, sometimes more dazzling, ways.
‘Bag of tricks’
These tools – best seen as social media – possess a world-changing facility: revolutionary connectivity.
Their phenomenal “bag of tricks”? Unlimited mobility, untethered access from anywhere, speed of accomplishment, amazing interactivity, massive reach, new actual communities and the ability to be a member of many communities (and at the same time), multiple simultaneous streams of access and interaction, mind-boggling democratised access, group content, immediate access to huge audiences, amazing ability to target, extensive availability of sources of whatever, immediate ability to pool resources.
They bring far-reaching, impressively consequential possibilities literally to our fingertips.
You really understand what that means? No other media have hitherto provided anywhere near this swift, ubiquitous ability to pool, to be community, to collaborate, to change. That, my friend, is the big, transformative, game-changing potential that is inherent in the new digital media.
These are tools that not only offer new forms of transfer but facilitate profoundly progressive ways of thinking and operating, new frameworks and new outcomes.
And we think that using them to better deliver the old orientations is the best we can do in schools?
In truth, the new technology may more effectively teach the old “subjects” – perhaps you will have more engaged, more motivated, more information-full learners. But to make that the breadth of your vision for its use will be to press forward with an obsolescent and discordant concept of education.
Schools and universities are pivotal to the new paradigm as they are unrivalled in their access to a daily supply of captive audiences and selected and trained personnel specifically commissioned to educate them.
But for these institutions to employ the new technologies as merely more interesting, even efficient, means of teaching the same old things is to miss our greatest opportunity so far to transform education, to transform people, to transform countries, to transform the world.
If we don’t with fervent, clear-headed intentionality immerse our charges in the noblest possibilities of the new social media, we will hold ourselves back by failure – even as some subject “knowledge” increases – to make the best use of our chances to collaborate quickly, powerfully and developmentally towards previously improbable revolutionary ends.
Real productive life is increasingly about being change-minded, inter-disciplinary, global, innovative, quickly adaptive to change, insightful, community-minded, interactive, entrepreneurial, non-tribal, continually engaged in learning, collaborative, democratic, broad-minded, tolerant, egalitarian, less hierarchical.
And today’s digital tools provide the powerful wherewithal to adapt to these new realities and requirements. But truly meaningful embracing of these new technologies requires an embracing of their key potential.
We are dangerously lagging in reorienting people to the developmental, transformative potential of these things that are being used in schools mostly as newer tools of traditional education and beyond those walls by the vast majority as self-indulgent fancy upgrades of two tin cans and a piece of string.
In schools, hopefully spurring change in the wider sphere, we must realise that, as Stacey Goodman wrote, “we have to help students see themselves as agents of imagination and members of communities larger than themselves”.
Simply unleashing mobile technology in school spaces without radically reorientating personnel, curriculum, institutional frames and educational goals towards the tools’ transformative potential is to perpetuate schools’ long-standing disconnect from real-world possibilities – while deluding ourselves that we are getting with it.
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email [email protected]