Technology no panacea in delivering education

Published on the 27/02/2017 | Written by Anthony Caruana

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Much has been said about the use of technology in schools, writes Anthony Caruana, but some principles just don’t change…

The road to deploying technology in the education sector has not been without some issues. The Ultranet project in Victoria was beset with issues almost from its conception. Aside from some significant governance issues, it did not deliver with the initial rollout marred by poor performance and constant outages.

And in New Zealand, the bungled school payroll project Novopay went hopelessly over-budget, failed to deliver a fundamental requirement to allow schools to pay part-time teachers, created widespread administrative headaches for schools, and had the education ministry scrambling to correct a litany of errors.

There are bright spots however. The OneSchool initiative developed by Education Queensland is one example.

Many schools run separate systems for learning management, assessment, curriculum management and school administration functions such as HR, finance and student records management. OneSchool brought together these many disparate operational systems onto one platform and has been embraced as a success by the 1,300 schools and 50,000 users in the State.

Operating in the cloud on the Unit4 platform, OneSchool has successfully connected teachers, school administration, students, and parents and guardians.

Ultimately, the success of any technology program in a school comes down to several factors. Although BYOD, cloud platforms and device preference often dominate the discussion, Allan Shaw, the principal of The Knox School, an independent co-educational school in Melbourne, said “a lot of it depends on the school and the teachers.”

Shaw was an early adopter of technology when he was in the classroom, during the 1990s.

“The key to it is how the teacher uses IT and how the school sets up the infrastructure and trains and expects its staff to use it. Education is a human business, no matter what the technology is.”

This is perhaps the most critical point. Although the IT devices and systems may attract lots of attention, Shaw said they are merely an enabler. The basic rules around successful pedagogy remain with teachers retaining a firm footing on the educational principles that ensure learning goals are achieved.

And while technology can aid with engagement and support teachers, it is not a panacea for teaching technique that may be found wanting.

Successful use of technology, said Shaw, starts with senior teachers and management being clear in what they expect from how technology can be used to drive positive teaching outcomes.

“There needs to be a balance between the headline results that come from standardised national assessment testing which our community holds as important, and what underpins that – which is good, engaging learning at any age.”

Shaw said it is crucial that the schools’ technology strategy and its educational policy are aligned. Good schools, he said, put their focus on learning objectives with technology supporting those aspirational goals.

That extends not only to educational tools and programs, but also ensuring students have a safe environment where they can take appropriate risks to aid their learning.

The ultimate success of any technology program in a school will be determined by how it supports the educational objectives of the institution. Always on, reliable infrastructure is a must. But the devices and tools that are put in the hands of students and teachers can’t just be interesting gadgets. They must equip students to safely achieve learning goals and prepare them for life after school.

Schools and the boards that run them are now recognising the value in establishing a solid IT infrastructure to modernise both the classroom environment and the administrative support.

The issue remains, however, that the ICT curriculum through schools is hopelessly inadequate, given the influence that technology now has on day-to-day life beyond the classroom.

Put simply, it is not the how, but the what that really counts.

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