iGnorance in the pursuit of a 21st century education.

In his seminal work on education, John Dewey wrote that “Were all teachers to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.” (Dewey, 1916). What did Dewey mean? Essentially he is calling us to nurture and develop the essential cognitive processes a developing human being requires so they have the requisite skills to be able to participate as literate members of their respective societies.   These are not developed at the expense of other essential skills found in our social and emotional lives; on the contrary our essential cognitive development includes key areas of psychosocial and emotional development too.  For example Piaget posited 4 key stages of development each interdependent of the other and arrived via the individual’s readiness to move beyond their own accomplished period of development. For instance during the sensorimotor stage (Birth to 2 years old) an infant builds and integrates understanding of himself or herself and reality (and how things work) through interactions with the environment. This isn’t achieved devoid of social or emotional engagement, but is interdependent and developed through it. Nor is this achieved through staring at a flat 2 dimensional screen; an infant learns  to differentiate between themselves and other 3D objects. Learning takes place via assimilation (the organization of information and absorbing it into existing schema) and accommodation (when an object cannot be assimilated and the schemata have to be modified to include the object). At the preoperational stage (ages 2 to 4) the child is not yet able to conceptualize abstractly and needs concrete physical situations. Objects are classified in simple ways, especially by important features. At the concrete operational stage (ages 7 to 11) physical experience accumulates, and is increased. The child begins to think abstractly and conceptualize, creating logical structures that explain his or her physical experiences. Finally, formal operations (beginning at ages 11 to 15) through cognition reaches its final form. By this stage, the person no longer requires concrete objects to make rational judgements. He or she is capable of deductive and hypothetical reasoning. His or her ability for abstract thinking is very similar to an adult (Ginsberg & Opper, 1987). Aside from Piaget there are many other theories on how we learn: Skinner, Howard Gardener, Montessori, Rudolph Steiner and so on , all argue for a balanced and socially interactive approach to teaching and learning in which key skills about inter/intrapersonal relationships are nurtured and developed too-in other words the educative process isn’t a single flat line leading to an eventual university degree, it’s a highly socialised process, with many diversions and detours in which we work towards ensuring that our children become well adjusted, balanced and happy human beings who make a positive contribution to their own lives and the lives of others. And it is this view of teaching and learning which is being eclipsed by the iNsane rush to digitalise every aspect of teaching pedagogy today. In defence of educational technology however,  it has achieved some practical innovations in teaching and learning. One in particular comes to mind and it is the flat classroom project. This multi-award winning  approach to linking teachers and students globally is an example of integrating useful aspect of technology into the field of education not the other way around.  And there are others too-I examine for an international awarding body which scans test papers and essay and enables examiners to download these into a program to be marked. This replaced a costly paper based system which couriered examination materials all over the world. There’s also the digitalised text books and the 3D imagery which brings alive subjects like Geography, History, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics to name a few; and in the junior years there’s  a plethora of material available ( if one thinks like some major publishing houses that placing a developing child in front of a screen is an ideal way to learn). Recently, I was privileged to sit in on a Grade 1  numeracy blended lesson in which some educational technology was used to reinforce the concept of 1 digit numerals. The teacher finished the lesson by placing on her hand a glove puppet in the form of a shark. Much to the delight and giggles of her students the shark gobbled up all the numerals each child had, not before they counted them out loud. I couldn’t help but wonder how the students would have responded to a cold, unfeeling screen with a shark eating the numbers courtesy of Microsoft or Apple Inc. or one of the many major publishing houses eager for a slice of the big buck money pie available through developing digitalised learning resources. The point is there is so much glamour and hype associated with iTechnolgy along with iGnorance about how we learn which is driving the technology agenda in teaching and learning today, without any moral or ethical consideration about the affects and effects on children and young people as they learn. There are three critical factors for healthy physical and psychological development in a child which will never be duplicated through any kind of educational technology. They are movement, touch and inter/intrapersonal connection to other human beings. What will future generations of administrators, teachers and learners do when all the apples have fallen from the iTree?

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan.

Ginsberg, H., & Opper, S. (1987). Piaget’s Theory of Intellectual Development-Thrid Edition. New York: Prentice Hall.

4 comments on “iGnorance in the pursuit of a 21st century education.

  1. If these new technologies do not have a base of evidence supporting their integration into classrooms, I wonder how teachers and pedagogists can be more effective in countering the marketing muscle behind such new technologies.

  2. Yes, it is a David and Golaith kind of situation-the powerful IT lobbies and the corporate IT sector are flooding the education sector with false hopes and promises of a kind of techno-education utopia. Many institutions and individual educators embrace the hype without any kind of critical awareness or conscious competency as educators in the field. We can become more effective through raising a critical awareness of these issues through research, writing, publications, blogging and discussions. Spread the word and share our thoughts!

  3. Aroos Nasir says:

    David H. Jonnasen says in his book that technology is NOT a teacher, it is just a tool to help the learners in the process of meaning making.
    For example the interactive technology like blogging, may not teach the writers English, but it will be the means to convey the message around the world.
    learners, even from their early age, may be engaged in the learning process through the use of technology, but the need of the hour is to understand the role of technology in education before getting started with its use.
    What do you say Dr. Burke?

    • Yes, this is so, the arguments must center around the enhancement of education through technology not the other way around, and more importantly in the Early Years how much time should be devoted to enhanced technology use in education.

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