The Child Within the Student

Girl Hiding Behind Calculator

calculator 150x150 The Child Within the StudentSince I was a little boy – and that goes back quite a while –the rapid pace at which technology impacted our lives has raised danger signs. It began with the radio cutting into family time, graduated to television replacing family time, and finally resulted in the computer abolishing it completely. In many different areas of life we began to ask at what point was the human element going to be overtaken by the technological.

Interestingly, the one area in which things remained more or less the same was education. Sure the slide ruler was replaced by the calculator (which, in itself, took much longer than it should have) but the blackboard remained at the front of the classroom (changing to a white board does not really qualify as a significant technological advance) and text books still weighed down our students backpacks. The argument could be made that the techno-lag that affects schools is the result of a funding-lag. After all, new technology is expensive. And, while we are frequently willing to go out and spend precious dollars to ensure that our family has the newest and latest gadgets in our living room we feel no such drive when dealing with our child’s classroom.

However, this is starting to change. For one, the clear advantages that technology offers simply cannot be ignored. This is certainly true when some of our educational goals include the technology itself, calculators and computers being the best examples, but also holds true regarding the use of technology to enhance the teaching of almost any subject, smart boards being an obvious example. Secondly, since our students relate to their world through certain technological media, it has become worthwhile for teachers to try and relate with such media as well. Finally, as educators come to realize, perhaps more than ever, the need to individualize education, technology seems to offer the tools to allow such individualization, the flipped classroom being a current example.

And here the need for caution.

We often forget that teaching a child individually, whether in an one-on-one session, or through any technology, does not mean that you are actually individualizing. It is possible that while you are teaching the individual you are not taking the needs of the individual into account at all. (Hence we often speak of differentiating instruction, not individualizing.) Frequently, it is not addressing the needs of the individual student and tailoring instruction to his learning style that is difficult, but rather in ascertaining what those needs are in the first place. Thus, the first step is not in the realization that I must teach each child as an individual, but that I must see each child as an individual. For the former, technology is a blessing, for the latter, a curse.

In past posts I have lauded the educational possibilities presented by some of the newer technologies. However, if they remove our focus from the child that lives within the student, they should be abandoned. The human element in all we do should never be minimized, this is all the more so when teaching children. Let’s make sure we never forget this simple truth.

5 Responses to The Child Within the Student

  1. Lee Cox says:

    Technology is ubiquitous, and it feeds a warp-speed engine of change that will continue to accelerate, exponentially, as far into the future as we can see. The acronymn GRIN (not original with me) is apt in representing genetics, robotics, intelligence (artificial as well as biologically enhanced), and nanotechnology as the major technologies that are shaping the future. So yes, we must use technologies in all the appropriate ways in the educationanal arena; but we should also be preparing our students to function and prosper in a world that will be defined by phenomena of exponential change. In such a world, assumptions become more and more tenuous, certainties less than certain, and our ability to predict future occurrences and outcomes from present-day data tenuous at best. This raises the educational stakes sharply, from a matter of determining what tools to use (a very important matter in its own right) to a meta question of what we need to know and how we need to be prepared to live.

    • Karmi Gross says:

      I believe that we must focus on retraining teachers to fully appreciate the exponential change you speak of. It is simply inconceivable that the educators of our future generations do not comprehend the new realities, and teach as if technology and its massive impact on all we do, know and create is a passing fancy, or a tool for enhanced entertainment. If teachers themselves do not recreate themselves, how can they possibly be responsible for teaching the skill of constant recreation, which will probably become the most important of skills in our rapidly changing world.

  2. Maha Broum says:

    Excellent point you demonstrated here. Policy makers need to develop new policies to keep up with fast-changing technology to meet students’ needs/interests/ abilities. Current school system is not responding to students well.

  3. James Duthie says:

    I think that those who say that teachers must be in the business of teaching students to constantly recreate themselves have put the cart squarely before the horse. It is a truism that in today’s classroom it is the students who frequently teach the teachers how to use the new technology; the students are looking after that aspect themselves. I don’t think it is possible for the teachers to remain as current with the new technology as the students are, nor should they try. As far as teachers and technology are concerned, the old saying applies: I am their leader, I must follow them. By all means use technology as a tool, but don’t make it an end in itself.

    Education is about far more than trying to predict what technological marvels lie ahead and trying to prepare students to deal with them. That is an inherently self-defeating exercise since teachers and school systems will always be behind the curve. Education is about engaging the student as an individual and helping him or her to develop the intellectual skills and character traits which enable them to navigate whatever circumstances arise in the future. The kids are always going to be far ahead of their elders in learning how to work the new apps, social media and what have you that will continue to emerge. What we as adults need to do is teach them how to evaluate events (history), character (literature) probability (math), technology (science) and values (ethics). We fool ourselves if we think that educational systems can prepare the next generation to meet the challenges of nano-computing or whatever, except by going back to the basics – good thinking, sound values and a big dose of healthy skepticism.

    • Karmi Gross says:

      Your point is well taken and complements the thrust of my post. We can focus on the needs of the individual, personalizing learning, and leave it up to the kids to apply the thinking skills and sound values we provide to the technological seas they must navigate. See my post on ‘Data Data Everywhere’ which outlines the direction in which ‘good thinking’ should be headed.

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