Why I think Technology ALONE cannot solve our educational crisis?

The other day I had a wonderful interaction with children to whom life had deprived everything and yet were attending “school”. I was learning that they have to work harder in “reconciling” what the education tends to teach and the “harsh realities” they witness each day in their own homes and surroundings. For them education is also about helping them break away from their past (and present) and usher a better future while delicately not letting their innocence fade away in knowing those harsher truths.

(pixabay.com, for representational purpose only)

I was learning that the teachers need to transform themselves into a strong “hero” with whom the students can relate and gradually replace their “current ones” – those neighborhood mafia leader whom everyone seems to respect or the drug peddler who always seems to have abundant money.

Contrastingly, my two daughters have everything in relative abundance. From love that’s generously showered at them by their parents, two sets of grandparents, uncles and aunts to viewing “How Universe Works” in HD in Discovery Channel. They have more than sufficient access to information and more than required means of getting them. Educating them would really mean asking them the right questions and letting them find answers. Education for them is all about exposure – the more you expose them to knowledge, the more wisdom they are going to absorb. Education for them is about “pace” at which we can let their natural learning take place and how do we allow these different “paces” to work in tandem.

The crisis staring at us

The ASER Report (Annual Status of Education Report) 2014 says that in India, more than 50% of grade 5 children cannot read grade 2 text and 76% of students don’t quite make it beyond grade 8. And over 9 lakh teacher vacancies exists across primary and upper-primary classes. Well it says much more but I picked up only a few!

So what could “educating” mean in today’s times. Here are some of my inferences:

  • It needs to be something that makes “learning” the end objective and not “finishing the curriculum
  • It means a grade 2 doesn’t really get over until it actually does. Just the passage of time doesn’t mean anything. It means asking more questions and letting answer find its receivers (the students)
  • It needs to incorporate “differing paces and levels” of each student. In any class there is always a mix of students at varying level of mastery in different topics sitting in one class. The teaching needs to be self-modulating in its speed. In other words, the same lessons needs to be delivered at varying pace and depth.
  • It needs to fill the massive gaps of teachers and bring a higher quality of teaching available to everyone.
  • It needs to be able to change the context and examples as per the ecosystem of its recipient. It means if an urban child gets an example of “visiting a mall” for a subject, the same lesson needs to change to “visiting the local temple carnival for a rural child
  • It needs to arrest the high abysmal drop-out rates by making the “school airtime” the most sought-after time by the children. It means changing the way we teach, we behave, we organize and we deliver the so-called-education. This is perhaps more warranted in non-urban schools as of today, but the same applies for urban ones too.
  • It needs to subtly and gradually influence the minds of the children so they see a value of the entire education process. They need to “feel” the need of getting educated. They need to be able to reconcile the differences of what they see at home/locality and what the education tries to show as an “ideal” behavior. For this the “Teacher” is the only facilitator, the only bridge, the only mentor and the only guide who can explain the anomalies and paradoxes that surround some of these children.

Can technology help solve some of these issues?

By the way that was just the tip of the iceberg, there are probably plenty of more “ice” hidden there! But even with the ones I mentioned, let’s see what is perhaps possible with technology.

  • Adaptive Learning Technology” is perhaps something which definitely needs to be explored. In simple terms it means that the teaching “adapts” itself as per the students learning abilities. It “paces” itself so the same content is delivered at different speed and rigor to different children. So if my child has trouble with HCF and LCM, he/she spends more time solving exercises than her/his peer who may be struggling with fractions. It also means that if the student is having trouble understanding the lesson in one way, it can try changing the way, the examples till the student attains a minimum proficiency. 
  • With cheaper internet and smart devices, it may not be too far to have a lecture delivered from a renowned subject expert from anywhere and streamed into the classroom (or better still into their individual devices) with real-time two-way possibilities of the communication channels. This may address part of the shortage of good teachers.
  • I imagine an eBook in the hands of every child instead of heavy bags. They will contain rich text book contents, classroom notes, embedded lectures and even YouTube videos that provides many things in one convenient place. Just add the Adaptive Learning technology and you have customized content and lesson plan for each student. 

And what it cannot?

Technology cannot substitute this “real” teacher who lives, who emotes, who breathes and who thinks and acts as a “human glue” to help children see the value of the entire learning process. It cannot be a substitute of the compassionate teacher who is the very reason why children come to school. They need a “real” breathing human to show them that there are multiple type of heroes in this world (and not just the ones they see in their streets). It cannot be the “guide” that can explain why bad things happen to good people in spite of the brilliant education they have had. It needs a real teacher to “influence” the children and taking them forward towards higher success.

We need teachers who foster & advance the spirit of learning in each child that they engage with. We need teachers who can relate to each and every child and know why they perform the way they do. We need teachers who understand that there cannot be one single scale to measure every child. 

(from the Facebook page of Easy Teaching Tools)

We need teachers who know that creating thinking citizens is more important that creating Math Whiz kids or spelling bee champions.

The crisis today needs a healthy mix of both technology and “real” teachers to tackle them. It may be futile to even think that one can do without the other. We need a perfect tandem of “real” people and “virtual” technologies to address all the challenges that lay ahead of us.

I am no expert & wrote this piece from a parent’s point of view. I invite your thoughts on it.

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