Guest Blog by Bernat Casanovas
In the coming years, we will see how technological innovations will change our educational models from top to bottom. No, I don’t have a crystal ball that predicts the future (I’d like one), I merely state this as I’ve been working in the education sector for many years and I’m seeing and experiencing major changes, changes that this time, are here to stay. It will be a revolution that will affect all those involved in the current system. Here I will review how these changes may affect them, one by one.
If we take into account that this disruption will have a technological starting point, we can see what is happening in relation to schools and education in general. Until recently, discussing technology in schools was to talk about computers, but I think we can agree, that we are now talking about tablets as the first thing that comes to mind.
The introduction of computers did not actually involve any radical change. In fact, computers only marginally displaced textbooks and we have witnessed the initial transition from paper books to digital books and from there to interactive digital books, and now to the super-interactive book but, in fact, they are still just books.
However, I have observed that the arrival of tablets is indeed causing a revolution in some schools. I’ve seen a natural science project (about the trees surrounding the students) made completely outside of the classroom, with only a tablet in hand. The children saw trees that caught their attention, photographed them, identified them from their leaves using the help of an app and geo-referenced them. They received explanations on-site (under the shade of a tree) not from a teacher but from botanists, ecologists, etc… The students recorded the explanations; and took endless pictures and videos. They made spectacular presentations with all the collected material, in groups, in-situ. When the students finished these astonishing projects, they shared them with their teacher using a Dropbox folder.
My meaning is that tablets do not simply replace computers or textbooks: The revolution is far more radical. This happened in 2012 in South Africa. I ‘m not talking about the future; I am talking about the past. Everywhere that this route has been taken, it was found that technological changes ended up changing habits: students leave the classrooms; they work more on projects; they break with traditional routines and schedules etc…
If we review the objectives of the Vittra project at various schools in Sweden, one of the most innovative that I am aware of, we do not see any technological objective. Technology is only a means to serve the objectives of the project: to understand how each student learns; to be aware of how they’re learning (learning to learn); to encourage children’s self-confidence; their communication skills, learning based on experience and across multilingual and multicultural virtual environments. Who’s talking about tablets?
I have already spoken at length about Digital Natives; that today’s children have nothing to do with us. Their high level of technological skills and capacity to process information never ceases to amaze parents and teachers. The information reaches them in various forms and channels. Yesterday I told my son: “I was contacted by your teacher.” To which he replied, “Which way?” Sure, when we were children, we contact each other in person or by phone, but now…
Technology? My son has had a personal blog since he was 7 years old. He cannot understand how his teachers struggle so much to access content on the school’s blog. I listen to him and I’m simply just thinking that for him, going to school every day is like traveling back to prehistoric times.
I will not expand further on this point now but, one day, I’ll dedicate a post to talking about the kids of today. For now, I’ll end with a video to see if we can understand them a little more, a classic that I never tire of looking at: A Vision of K-12 Students Today
The video is from 2007. I’m not talking about the future; I’m talking about the past.
Governments and businesses
Many Western countries are starting pilot programs with new educational models. We talked about Sweden, but also in the Netherlands, UK, USA, etc. However, the great revolution is occurring in the emerging economies, especially in Asia (led by South Korea) and some Latin American countries (especially Brazil), where the government has announced the distribution of hundreds of thousands of tablets to schools). Also, keep in mind countries like South Africa. This may appear to be a large investment, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that the current production cost of an entry-level tablet is about $20.
To understand where this evolution is happening even faster, let’s look to where children represent a significant percentage of the population. The West is aging and there are fewer children every day, while in many countries in Asia, Africa or Latin America, the population under 18 years is between 30% and 50% of the total. This century, Europe will lose between 100 and 200 million people by declining birth rates but countries like Nigeria will increase from 150 million today to over 900 million.
Of course, tablet manufacturers will compete with each other in each market. There are fierce battles to win public competitions so their tablets are chosen for schools (millions of new users and devices to be sold). However, the tablets are often very similar, so the only differential factor is in the content included in such devices. Currently, Apple and Samsung are fighting to win the battle in countries like Brazil. They are not only fighting for who has the best device, but above all, to show who allows access to the best educational content. The role of authoring tools such as ‘Make it’, serving teachers and education in general, can also play an important role.
The role of publishers is also very important. The sales of textbooks have been declining for years. Teachers have been gradually moving away from them as they are expensive and inflexible. They often prefer photocopying the best of each book (which may be illegal, but it’s impossible to control or prosecute).
The publishers have been reacting to decreasing sales in their traditional textbook business model by finding new business opportunities in digital. Now, we are starting to see 100 % digital proposals from publishers. It’s is probably not long until we see textbooks being given away for free (anyone want to bet?)
Worldwide, it is estimated 7 out of 10 children are studying without using textbooks and this phenomenon is set to only increase.
This is fact in 2013. I ‘m not talking about the future; I’m talking about the past.
Teachers and parents
This will be the subject of the next post. We’ll analyze movements like Home Schooling, with the current boom in the USA, and the revival of Montessori. People continue to talk about today, not about the future 🙂
Author: Bernat Casanovas