Are we truly using technology in the classroom?
Across the region there have been calls for schools and teachers to cater to our increasingly tech-savvy students. Here are five factors affecting the use of technology in the classroom.
With the recent release of Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) examination results, the quality of the education offered in the Caribbean has been garnering wide debate. At the launch of the 2012 CXC results, CXC Registrar, Dr. Didicus Jules, challenged countries to revisit the teaching methods being used:
… the “chalk and talk” mode of teaching is dead and it is time teachers’ start using the tools available to reach their more technologically savvy students… (Source: Demerara Waves)
Dr. Jules’ sentiments are not new. Over the past several years, policymakers, along with others who have some interest in education, have posited similar views, which (in part) would have been the impetus for initiatives such as One Laptop Per Child and the expansion of Internet broadband access to schools. However, although we have had varying degrees of success to date on such projects, there might not be any measurable improvement in student performance, evidenced by the disappointing results at the June 2012 examination sitting. What could be some of the factors that are affecting the use of technology in the classroom? We highlight five.
Do you agree with our five points? Did we miss other important factors? Please share as a comment below.
1. Still too few computers relative to the student population
Although the One Laptop Per Child/One Laptop Per Student projects might have their own challenges (see Are schemes offering laptops to students really effective?), at the very least, they aim to put a computing device in the hand of every child/student, thus providing a means to interface with technology. In areas or countries where such programmes are absent, the ratio of computers to students might still be unduly high, which means
- demand for use would be also high
- students might not interacting with such devices consistently
- teachers may have to be selective about the topics for which they can use computing aids, but more importantly,
- computers as an integral part of the learning process remains a novel and unrealised concept.
2. Technical expertise and support is often limited
Many schools do not have ready access to the expertise necessary to establish and maintain electronic systems that would allow them to, among other things, share resources, introduce much needed controls, and get optimal use out of the computers and other devices in their care. If they are lucky, someone might have set up the initial network, but its maintenance and evolution to suit the changing needs of the school may not have been factored in. In some cases, those configurations end up being abandoned, if no one is at hand to provide the requisite assistance.
Furthermore, securing repairs, replacements and servicing can be a protracted process. Hence students, teachers, and even schools, could be without proper functioning equipment for weeks or months at a time, which in turn affects student learning.
3. School-wide Internet access may still be a problem
Roll out of Internet access to schools is continuing across the region – some countries are more connected than others. However, there is a concern about the actual bandwidth allocated to schools. Is it sufficient to allow every student to be online at the same time and enjoy reasonable performance?
The majority of schools would most likely be paying for Internet access, and some might pay a subsidised rate. Nevertheless, and especially in these tough economic times, there may be a need to balance budget and bandwidth. The result, ultimately, is that a select few areas end up having Internet access – Administration, the staff room and the computer lab. Hence the opportunity to truly integrate technology into the classroom is frequently absent.
4. Comprehensive content development not yet implemented
The preparation of teaching modules to assist teachers in the classroom can be lengthy and expensive. To varying degrees, teachers rely upon material posted on the Internet – images, video clips, etc. – to supplement their classes on ad hoc basis. Moreover, teaching methods might not necessarily have changed to incorporate and benefit from the full integration of technology-related aids in student learning.
Currently, technology appears to be used extensively to assist with testing and remediation – see websites such as CaribExams and Edufocal. However comprehensive and coherent electronic class- (or teaching-) related content, relevant to the region and curriculum being taught, is not as evident. Preparation of such material would be expensive even if done per country, but savings could be realised if instead the exercise was implemented regionally, to capitalise on economies of scale and scope.
5. Priorities equated to the lowest common denominator
Finally, it is important to highlight that although schools might have the best intentions for their student regarding their academic performance, the majority of them exist under challenging conditions, which would affect their priorities. For example, many public schools have had to increase their class size, resulting in individual teachers single-handedly managing forty to fifty students, with differing needs and capabilities, in the classroom.
Furthermore, at the school level, although government might provide the basics, many are struggling to find ways of supplementing their income, in order to provide some critical extras. Under such circumstances, the call for greater use of technology in the classroom might appear to be an extravagance that they can ill afford.
In light of the above points, although schools and teachers are being criticised for not making greater use of technology in the classroom, it is unlikely that they are being given the resources or support to realise this. While a few exceptions might exist among private schools, most public schools are struggling to ensure that their basic needs are covered. Hence greater participation and direction is needed from Ministries of Education and governments to move us, as individual countries and as a region, from lip service to the technology-enabled classroom.