Monday, 18 June 2012

Technology in classrooms - old wine in new bottles?

 Technology penetration in educational institutes is rapidly gaining ground. In India, many private schools now proudly display their "smart classroom' status. In remote villages, Government Schools have computer labs. There is now talk about using Tablets, iPads and smart phones to make education interactive and meaningful.

However, in this race to embrace technology, are we forgetting the good old pedagogy - the foundation for any education program to succeed . Noted ICT in Education expert Shelley Pasnik cautions educators about this gap -"is Pedagogy keeping up with technology" he asks.  Let us examine this question in Indian context.

I was addressing a group of faculty members in a leading Arts and Science College in Chennai as part of a faculty development program. Since the session was on e Learning and ICT usage in classrooms, I asked them how many of them are on Facebook, about 10 - 12 hands went up. Then I asked them how many of them have a blog of their own. There was complete silence, until one young lecturer rose up and asked "Sir what is a blog?"  

Another day, another place, this time it was a Government School. In my interaction with school teachers on use of computers and ICT in education, many teachers proudly declared that they have attended Computer Training during summer holidays. Some teachers even displayed their certificates to me. At the end, I wrote my email ID on the blackboard and asked them to send me emails if they needed any information or wanted to share any information. The teachers exchanged quick glances and finally one teacher confessed, sir we do not have email ID and another teacher said, I have email ID, but internet connection in this school does not work. This particular Government school has a well equipped Computer Lab - computers with LCD monitors and names of prominent IT companies listed as 'sponsors'.

The point is on one hand our schools have computers and they also have 'computer classes' and training, but the teachers are still not oriented to make the best use of it or they are hindered by infrastructure barriers like lack of internet connection. You may think this is common in Government schools, but it is similar in so called elite 'Smart Schools'. Once, when I asked my daughter how is her 'smart classroom' functioning as I see that board everytime I drop her to school. She said, oh, that my teacher switches it on shows some slides, then fumbles with the controls and then switches it off. It is back to the good old blackboard and lecture.

When the college lecturer asked me about blogs and the school teacher asked me about creating email ID, I really felt that our teachers, administrators and educators simply do not understand the real power of technology. Mere placing of computers, gadgets, interactive white boards without training the teachers in their proper usage will not change anything. Teachers will brush aside the technology as simple waste of time if they are not properly trained.

Administrators and educators should realize that just buying all sorts of new technology does not make learning meaningful, it is about how you use them. Even with latest technology teachers still struggle to retain students interest. New technology to be effective must be backed up by innovative pedagogy. Pedagogy should dictate how the devices, tools should be used. As Shelley Pasnik says, "it is what you do with (technology & devices) and how teachers and students use those tools"

While developed countries are leapfrogging to digital devices of all shapes and sizes, our education system is caught in a time warp.Teachers and students  are mere onlookers as other Countries, even countries like Bangaladesh and Sri Lanka are overtaking us in terms of technology usage in education.

Traditonal pedagogy practices must evolve to match the growing technology, if the investment in Computers and other technology has to start bringing in rich dividends. Teachers must be sensitized and oriented to new technology and its usage. Otherwise it will be the classic case of old wine in new bottles, or its digital equivalent : PDF and powerpoint slides of traditional textbooks on computers and iPads.