It was extremely balanced in showing the growing commercialisation of technology in schools and in particular pointing out the possible perils of having students doing programmed lessons that supposedly lead to higher achievement levels in standardised tests.
I was particularly impressed by the teacher from the Waldorf School in Palo Alto, California, otherwise known as “Silicon Valley“, the home of the great microtechnology innovations, who stated the reasons that Google and Apple employees were sending their children to a school that eschewed the use of technology by their pupils until they were 13 years of age! To read more about the school see this informative article from the New York Times.
The reasoning of the tech people was that many schools using the commercialised programs with their students were effectively “programming” the children to become good at taking tests. They were concerned about the lack of creativity and how the products of these schools could become human “robots” capable of doing a narrow range of activities very well but not equipped to cope with the ever-changing global economy that we live in and capable of tackling the many problems that our world is beset with in regards to global warming, poverty, political destabilisation and growing urbanisation.
Perhaps the greatest problem in relation to the growth of this educational technology is the new players on the scene. The likes of Rupert Murdoch and Pearson were mentioned as huge commercial interests that have seen education as a growth area for making huge profits. Their influence has grown in the last few years and they have brought their “robot making” machines into schools. This is particularly seen in the poorer areas of the United States where Government money has been spent to create charter schools sponsored and supplied by these commercial giants. The growing threat to teachers of this commercialisation was covered extremely well in a blog article by Will Richardson in 2011, also called “My Teacher Is an App“.
There was also an interview with Salman Khan the founder of the “Khan Academy” whose video lessons have supposedly transformed education leading to the popular idea of the “flipped classroom”. No mention was made about the quality or accuracy of many of these video lessons which have been found to contain inaccuracies and which, in respect of the style used, present a “show, tell, lecture” approach that is all about filling empty minds with supposed important knowledge.
I think they key point to this very worthwhile discussion is to get us to realise the huge conflict that is happening within the world of education between those who are concerned with testing and standardisation and want a return to the values of the past and are backed by huge commercial interests that are able to pressurise Governments into using their “technology”. The other side is fighting for an education system that uses the technology to promote the 21st century skills of “creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking.”
Technology is not, in itself, an answer. We should all be involved in the debate about the use of technology in education. I am so pleased that the BBC has taken this subject seriously and has made such an interesting and well-balanced series of programmes which I would commend you all to listen to in order to work out where you stand in the debate.