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Tech-ucation: Does technology aid education?

UK councils and institutions invest millions of pounds per year on in-school technology. However, politicians and teachers have questioned the extent to which such devices actually aid education. Speaking on the eve of BETT, the educational technology fair, the General Secretary of the Board of Head Teachers claimed that the money spent on iPads in the last year could have funded more than 8,000 teachers. The annual cost of these gadgets is admittedly staggering, but is it not worth it if the technology used can enhance the quality of education that children receive?

We asked our panel of parents, teachers and young adults to discuss the use of technology in schools. We asked them to explain whether they thought it benefitted children’s learning. Moreover, we asked them to consider whether this technology was also beneficial for teachers.

Benefits

The results indicated that the majority of people were confident that technology positively impacted the education system for both the children and the teachers. Given that many jobs pivot upon the use of technology, respondents argued that familiarising children with these devices from a young age prepared them for working life.

‘Students are eventually going to work in a field where they are going to be surrounded by technology. Therefore, they need to get used to it from an early age’ (Emily, 28, Leeds)

In addition, the panel claimed that technology can break down the boundaries of learning and give young people the opportunity to expand their field of knowledge almost instantly.

‘Learning is on hand now. You don’t have to go to the library to get out a book, you can look it up on the internet’ (Rachel, 32, North Walsham)

Many parents claimed that their children were given access to tablets to play maths, science and literacy based games at school and at home. They felt that their children were more likely to retain the information that they received from a tablet because it meant that learning became interactive and fun.

They thought that this, in turn, helped teachers to engage children during lessons. The use of technology also benefited teachers outside of the classroom, as it gave them easy access to lesson planning materials and helped them mark work more rapidly.

‘It enables teachers to show children content in a form that engages them’ (Dianne, 55, Bexleyheath)

‘As a teacher it’s fantastic. I mark a lot of my assessments on the iPad’ (Chris, 33, Chatham)

Drawbacks

Yet, despite all the benefits identified above, many of the panel still had their reservations about the use of technology in schools. To counter the argument that having technology in schools prepares children for adulthood, several members of the panel noted that children were already learning these skills at home.

‘Kids do need to be ‘tech-savy’, but they will be anyway because they have access to these devices at home’ (Siobhan, 23, Whitley Bay)

Whilst there is no doubt that technology significantly reduces the amount of time it takes for children to access information, people thought that this conversely prohibited children from learning to solve problems independently.

‘It doesn’t help you to learn things really, because you can just type in a maths problem into Google and it will give you the answer straight away without you actually having to think about it’ (Laura-Rose, 23, West Mersea)

Similarly, there were worries that the daily use of tablets and computers stunted children’s development in other fundamental areas, such as handwriting, spelling and grammar. Devices take away the need to physically write and automatically correct errors in spelling or grammar, often without even alerting the user that changes have been made.

‘The only thing that concerns me is, do they miss out on their writing skills?’ (Tim, 48, Bangor)

‘I still think the basics of learning should be taught to children – every child need to know how to physically write a good letter’ (David, 42, Musselburgh)

Some people also thought that, since the introduction of tablet technology in schools, there was a lack of focus on social interaction and team-based learning. Children were no longer required to discuss topics or collectively work through problems, because this interaction was done silently through the web.

‘They still need to be taught things by an actual person, not just a screen’ (Katie, 25, Wallsend)

Furthermore, there were concerns that technology was more distracting for children than it was engaging. People argued that tablets were inevitably more appealing to children than teachers themselves. As a result, any information the teacher gave them vocally or through other traditional teaching methods would go unnoticed or ignored. Consequently, behavioural issues were likely to arise.

Conclusion

Overall, our results suggest that technology can be used to improve education for both children and teachers. It widens children’s pool of knowledge and equips them with valuable life skills. Technology also helps teachers lead exciting lessons and reduces their after-hours work-load. That said, there was a general consensus that children still need to learn skills through traditional methods, including writing and team-work skills.Thus, in order for technology to be used effectively in a classroom environment it needs to be closely monitored and policed to avoid inappropriate or overuse.

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