On Tuesday, The New Paper ran a report titled “Parents Question Use Of iPad In School”; the following day, Chinese newspaper 联合晚报 published a similar article (left), titled “名校要2,800师生用iPad, 家长掀骂战” (“Fury Over Decision To Use iPads In School”). Both news pieces were relatively brief expositions on River Valley High School’s decision to get its students and teachers to use the Apple electronic hand-held device for teaching-learning purposes, and an assortment of other initiatives or activities; nonetheless, the expression of dissent is not at all surprising.
Individuals should be cognisant of the tendencies for the aforementioned publications to sensationalise anecdotal observations or reader submissions (while slight dissatisfaction might be widespread, the proposition of a “shouting match” seems grossly exaggerated, and over-dramatised). However, it is worth contemplating perspectives associated with information communications technology (ICT): why is there such an immense obsession with it; does it employment necessarily yield desirable or positive after-effects; has its benefits and advantages been overstated?
ICT In Schools: Blind Obsession Or Genuine Necessity?
In a commentary last year, I was looking at whether ICT was becoming too laissez-faire (here).
“Without conclusive findings, heightened usage of ICT might not necessarily mean better-quality education for our students … [there is a] a plethora of unreliable information online, instances of plagiarism, and an assortment of distractions – for both teachers and students”.
My primary concern is that evidence in support for ICT in Singapore schools has been largely anecdotal in nature: more often than not, the Ministry of Education (MOE) uses select examples in certain institutions to illustrate how technology has “reduced learning apprehension” and “promoted creativity”. However, it has not been properly established whether there is indeed a positive correlation between the heavy use of ICT and overall academic or curricular performance (here). I remain staunchly unconvinced.
There are some considerations that should be taken into account by schools, as well as the MOE.
– Over-reliance and over-dependency, with disproportionate focuses dedicated to flashy distractions instead of concentrating on the curriculum proper.
– Disadvantageous for teachers and students who are less tech-savvy, who spend more time negotiating around applications or cosmetic amendments instead of reading substantial materials.
– Cost, and the “technological treadmill”. It may not be financially sustainable when one factors in maintenance, upgrading and telecommunications (3G, Wireless) purchases.
– Probable abuse of ICT practices by teachers (having students do additional work by themselves), under the banner of student ownership and independent learning.
– Time and effort wasted when there are experimental, technological errors, since hardware and software require years of design and fine-tuning before they are productive for active usage.
The River Valley High School Debacle
Even before the newspaper articles surfaced, observers and parents – on both sides of the fence – have been discussing the implications and potential ramifications on several popular online forums. Further concerns on cyber-wellness, addiction and campus security were highlighted, but reservations on the financial costs remained the most significant. Some also lamented the poor forms of communication, but what appears apparent is the view that the school’s reputation – to a certain extent – has been sullied.
Any proposal for a technological advancement in schools – such as the incorporation of the iPads in general pedagogies – should be premised upon convincing rationales, and tangible instances in a classroom setting. It is tempting to be blinded by the lure of hype, and lose sight of actual educational methodologies. Rather than using nebulous, superfluous justifications, schools should show parents and students how the new gadget would be employed during an actual lesson; masterclasses can be coherently organised, for different subjects, for stakeholders to see how things would be actually done.
The novelty of the iPad (and ICT in general) will tempt educators to adopt them as the easy way out, under the guise of expressions like “collaborative education”, “interactive, user-based lessons”, “academic-scholastic breakthrough”, “innovative implementation of activities” et cetera. The assumption that technology automatically enhances teaching-learning experiences is extremely fallacious; so unless schools are willing to take more calculated, sound and practical approaches, we must remain wary.