Bricks and tabs

Thursday, 27 June 2019 01:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Cabinet this week approved providing tabs to all Advanced Level students, but it is worth considering whether this is the best use for taxpayer funds given the cost is estimated at Rs. 5.2 billion annually. For decades Sri Lanka has been used to the standard paper, pen, pencil and chalk method of training and while this brave new world is exciting and offers great opportunities, there are also a few concerns.

On the positive side, technology allows for experimentation in education, democratises the classroom and encourages better engagement with students. Most teachers are not known for using creative teaching methods. The textbook-based approach to teaching has been blamed for rote memorisation where students are not encouraged in analytical thinking and finding information for themselves. Technology changes that and pushes teachers to use innovative methods with updated information. 

Teachers can also get instant feedback and participation with the use of technology. A student may decline to answer a question because he or she is shy but may be more ready to engage via a tab. The teacher can also include real time quizzes, polls and other measures to evaluate how much a student has absorbed from the lesson and spot where students may be struggling. Coursework and assignments can be adjusted or made more interesting by having greater engagement with students.

Countless online resources that enhance learning are also available. These include apps, e-textbooks and organisational platforms that can make learning more fun. This technique, sometimes referred to as “gamification” allows students to learn subjects through role play, which can be more interesting for subjects such as history. Technology can also automate a lot of tedious tasks such as taking attendance and leave more room for education. 

Clearly for children growing up in a technology-dominated environment, finding ways to adapt to it early makes sense. But there have also been studies to show that early immersion in technology impacts children’s growth and their social interaction abilities. Many parents have been told they should limit children’s screen time and encourage them to play and form friendships in the real world. 

Given the cost of infusing technology into classrooms and the sometimes vast resource gaps that exist in Sri Lanka’s education system, it is unlikely that smart classrooms will be scaled up significantly in the short term. But it is important to give children at least some chance to connect to technology as it will dominate their future.

It’s clear that the benefits are significant. But the key to technology in the classroom is always going to be the teacher-student relationship, because that’s where education happens. Technology can be a highly-effective tool, but that’s all it is — a tool. It also does not replace huge resource constraints within the education system and physical needs such as buildings, labs, competent teachers and updated learning material. 

Technology is not meant to replace the teacher. Rather, the idea is to create a flexible learning environment that breeds innovation. It shifts the classroom experience from the ‘sage-on-a-stage’ approach to a more collaborative learning environment. The success of such endeavours will ultimately depend upon how technology is applied to keep students engaged. Tabs should not just be an election gimmick and there needs to be continued effort to resolve serious problems within the education system.