The digital future of international school education

The digital future of international school education

The back to school season used to involve teachers stocking up on textbooks and Pilot pens and preparing slides for PowerPoint presentations. These days it’s not just the textbook that seems outdated; MacBooks and tablet devices are fast becoming classroom staples. School-children today are more...

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The back to school season used to involve teachers stocking up on textbooks and Pilot pens and preparing slides for PowerPoint presentations. These days it’s not just the textbook that seems outdated; MacBooks and tablet devices are fast becoming classroom staples.

School-children today are more tech-savvy that any generation before them. Many parents say, reluctantly, that they are not keeping pace with their kids’ digital skills. Most of us will have heard stories of the super toddlers who are learning to code before they can read or write. In fact, most children have some level of computer literacy before they have even set foot in a primary school.

It will come as little surprise, then, that technology is taking over the classroom. Schools have incorporated a diverse range of digital tools into their teaching – from the futuristic telepresence, augmented reality and 3D printing, to simple solutions such as social media, video games and graphic design.

Schools spend £17.5 billion each year on education technology globally, by technology research firm Gartner’s count. And the techno-splurge shows no sign of slowing down, with a study by ISC Research and C3 Education revealing that 60% of British curriculum schools around the world plan to purchase new digital content or applications this year.

Anyone who hasn’t grown up communicating through Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram may find these technologies novel. But many international school teachers admit that multimedia lessons are a good way to engage a generation used to consuming information through the Internet from a young age.

“Children are changing. Society is changing. Our understanding of how the brain works has become more sophisticated. Now, pedagogy needs to change to reflect this,” says Mark Chambers, CEO of Naace, the education technology association.

If used correctly, technology in the classroom is not just a better reflection of children’s lives today, but it also prepares them for a world of work that is increasingly dominated by digital.

“There is an illusion that every single young person knows how to use technology well. That isn’t true,” says Matt Britland, director of education consultancy, Realise Learning.

“Any employer in any field of work is going to need their employees to be technologically savvy. As the world of work is changing, with automation potentially causing jobs to disappear in the future, showing students how to use technology today will be invaluable.”

While technology has become prevalent in the classrooms of international schools, it has also caused a great deal of debate.

The benefit, say educationalists, is a learning experience that is more interactive, collaborative, creative and personalised.

“For me, it’s the immersion that brings value to lessons. Virtual reality, for example, is an entire new world. You get teleported into any scenario you can think of, and that is a really powerful way for students to learn, rather than reading about these things in a book,” says Paola Paulino, director of immersive technology education at the International School of Nanshan Shenzhen in China.

Yet, a study from the OECD found that investing in classroom technology doesn’t necessarily boost grades. And educational applications, such as MinecraftEdu, have been labelled “a gimmick that will get in the way of learning”. With results no guarantee, can schools really afford to invest in such outlandish innovations?

“Investment in educational technology is imperative to schools, but the investment needs to be well understood and well led to be successful,” says Naace’s Chambers.

While most teachers say that technology has an important role to play in developing technical skills, such as mathematical literacy, some are concerned about the impact it could have on children’s soft skills, like communication and the ability to work in teams.

“We do not need every student to be able to code the next Facebook, but we do need students with the ability to problem solve independently,” says Michael Forshaw, founder and managing director of Innovate My School. “They must not only have a thorough understanding of how technology works, but how it can improve business efficiency. These ‘soft skills’ are no longer an added bonus to an employer in the modern workplace, but a necessity.”

Perhaps most disturbingly, schools warn that virtual worlds may one day replace human interaction entirely.

“Creating virtual and interactive worlds will always be fascinating, but protecting essential social skills and ensuring that children are discerning, compassionate learners is central to education in the twenty-first century,” says Neil Richards, headmaster of British International School Phuket in Thailand, whose pupils use the Google cardboard virtual reality device.

Digital glasses made of paper – somehow that does not feel like the future of education.

 

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