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It's 2020. Where is the Ed-Tech Revolution?

#ed-tech #technology

We are living in the golden age of technology. Information has never flown faster or been produced in greater volumes. Why hasn't technology revolutionised education yet?

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Technology and Silicon Valley love to “disrupt” conventional setups. Uber claims to have done it to the taxi business, Airbnb says they did it to the hotel industry, and Netflix believes they have done it to the media industry.

Despite all the money and resources being pumped in by tech giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook – why hasn’t technology disrupted traditional education yet?

Why do 99.99% of students still get their education in a regimented, one-directional, hierarchical classroom setup? Why haven’t iPads, artificial intelligence and virtual reality become the “new normal”?

Use the links below to jump to individual sections –

  1. How do we know that Ed-Tech doesn’t help learning?
  2. Why have these limitations existed?
  3. How can we improve Ed-Tech?

How do we know that Ed-Tech doesn’t help learning? #

Simply, there just isn’t much evidence that technology, as of today, is helping in learning. The general notion that computers and digitisation fix everything has been proven patently false numerous times.

  • In 2015, OECD released an analysis that found that “even countries which have invested heavily in information and communication technologies (ICT) for education have seen no noticeable improvement in their performances in PISA results for reading, mathematics or science.”

  • In fact, countries that introduced computers in their classrooms saw a fall in PISA rankings.

  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent nearly $700 million in Chicago and found at the end of it that the use of technology had counterproductive results. (Report)(Article)

  • Prof. John Hattie’s meta study on various influences and effect sizes on student achievement found that ICT and one-on-one laptop usage has a less than average impact on student learning achievement. In contrast, something as simple as summarisation of a lecture has twice as much impact than ICT!

  • Kentaro Toyama, the founding director of Microsoft Research in India, wrote a book rubbishing claims of tech disruption and published this analysis – “Even in an age of amazing technology, social progress depends on human changes that gadgets can’t deliver.”

And to top it all off, this article’s title is enough to give you a hint -

The gist is - use of computers rarely ever contributes meaningfully to learning, and technology often tends to lead to reduced learning.

Why have these limitations existed? #

Here’s a relevant quote from another article on our blog

What is dull and unexciting will remain dull and unexciting regardless of how you access it!

Disregarding the limitations of poorly designed user interface and user experience, here are a few seemingly intuitive reasons that can help us understand Ed-Tech’s limitations better –

  1. Teachers are not savvy enough. Ideally, teachers should be able to explore relevant bits of information from the Internet with their students whenever the need arises. However, most teachers either lack the skills, the time or the resources to be able to make use of technology in this way.
  2. Ambitions dictate performance. When the objective of your app or video lecture is to help students pass a competitive exam, you are automatically lowering the bar for yourself. It is safe to say that every single “learning app” available today is just a digital version of a brick and mortar tuition center.
  3. Enforced learning never works. Simply put - who sets the agenda for using a tech device in a classroom? More often than not it is the service provider or the teacher, rarely ever the student. Whereas the same student could spend hours on their personal smartphone or computer because s/he decides what to do with it. Think of it this way - pushing a 3D model on a screen into the hands of a learner is no different than shoving their face into a textbook.
  4. Disconnect with biological needs. Children under the age of ten need tactile experience to develop their motor and cognitive skills. No amount of virtual reality can replace the advantages of playing with LEGO bricks.
  5. Reading on a screen is not the same. Most studies point to better reading comprehension from printed material. (Source) In fact this meta-analysis shows that “the advantage of paper-based comprehension has increased over the years since 2000.” This article in the Scientific American adds that “… when trying to locate a particular piece of written information they (people) often remember where in the text it appeared”, something that is impossible to do with a screen.
    Side note: Check out our publishing house – Manan Books. Informed by years of pedagogical insight, publishing and production experience and a social purpose, Manan Books publishes books promoting the democratic potential of education, to reflect the diversity of childhoods and learning experiences. We believe that good books in the mother tongues of India are the missing link that is holding back our children from flowering to their fullest potential.

How can we improve Ed-Tech? #

So should we just give up on technology? No, not at all! In fact, to improve Ed-Tech all we have to do is learn from contemporary constructivist ideas. Here’s a four-point checklist –

  1. Put the learners first. What is their context, what do they already know, what are their likes and dislikes.
  2. Give the learners a reason to use technology. Why should the learner solve this puzzle on their screen? How is this any different from forced to solve a maths problem from the textbook? Make them curious!
  3. Aim higher. Basic literacy and numeracy skills are important but if we aim at just that we are going to achieve even lower. This is why developing higher order thinking skills is important. Reading 250 words per minute is no good if you don’t comprehend what you just read!
  4. Let the learners think. In an attempt to appear holistic, ed-tech tends to do the thinking for the learner. This leaves no opportunities for them to reflect and arrive at conclusions - which is where the real learning happens.

While a few of contemporary ed-tech solutions have hit the first two points (for an upper-class user), the latter two are entirely amiss. It’s not entirely their fault though because the latter two are absent from most of our traditional classrooms as well.

If you’re interested, we provide suggestions on how to implement a learner-first pedagogy in this blogpost.

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