Education Should Not Be About “The Have’s vs The Have Nots”

Education should not be about those who can afford it. Even more so in Australia, the land of the young and free, the country of opportunity and a fair go.

Today I read an article that confirms the dismay I often hear from parents of students across our country. The article highlights that parents are being forced into buying expensive electronic devices for their children’s school activities. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-16/bring-your-own-device-requirements-for-primary-schools-debate/8184520.

Let’s leave aside for a moment the debate about devices for kids in schools and their benefits. The truth is, most schools fall substantially short in their application of effective and development Digital Technology education programs (https://goo.gl/GYA16I). Let’s look at overall effectiveness from both a financial and an educational perspective.

In the new “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) programs, asking parents to pay $700 for a tablet is simply unreasonable. This is a public education system, one that is meant to cater for all socioeconomic classes and budgets. What if mum or dad have several children at the school? Is this the last cost or will there be more in the future? What happens when that device is obsolete or superseded in two or three years?

Do parents simply buy all their children another one?

Furthermore, there is little evidence to prove that simply learning on an electronic device provides any real short or long term benefits to a child’s education, employment prospects or well being. Simply using a device does not mean that a child has digital literacy. That’s akin to buying a student a woodworking tool and expecting them to produce a piece of furniture. It’s only with a deep, comprehensive and structured computer science and ICT curriculum that a student can master computing, and importantly, the associated computational thinking and problem solving skills that transfer to other subjects, and be provided with long term, employable skills and benefits.

This is why I founded ScopeIT Education in Australia….. to provide effective modular learning programs to schools. This is in-school training that is facilitated by our network of Scopers (technology trainers) in collaboration with school teachers and the oversight of Principals. We do not merely teach ICT lessons in isolation. We’ve built a highly developed curriculum and lesson plans in conjunction with the Academic and Education Board (www.academicandeducationboard.org). These are fully integrated into the National curriculum with outcomes complementing a range of key learning areas. The lessons are based on foundational learning, not tied to an “iPad” or specific platform. Included in the program to each school are the necessary computers, 3D printers, software, trained instructors and even internet connections.

Why should parents have to pay for a top of the line device simply to have kids do work ‘online’? What happens when the technology breaks or changes? Do they need to pay for repairs, upgrades, more software?

What happens to the kids whose parents cannot afford replacement equipment?

We have a student from a school in a very low socioeconomic suburb of NSW. Upon starting ScopeIT Education lessons at the school, we were informed that the student “Jack” doesn’t have an interest in computers. “Jack only likes farming and if it’s not about farming he won’t engage… just let him be”.

Within two weeks Jack’s grandmother informed us that when he grows up he wants to be a Scoper (Computer Instructor). Now, what if this school had implemented the bring your own device program and Jack never got a chance to participate in the ICT curriculum? His future may have been a lot narrower than what he now dreams about.

Education needs to be accessible by every student.

Education needs to be current, relevant and promote further education and eventual employment.

Education needs to be built upon foundational principles of learning and not tied to a specific platform. Computer Science is a process, not an outcome. Demanding that students purchase devices is not a strategy, it’s an easy and expensive shortfall band-aid. It’s an ineffective solution to a much bigger problem. That is, the need for effective education delivering digital literacy for the generation of tomorrow.

It’s a big problem and nobody seems to be able to come up with a definitive solution. I am certain that schools insisting on a BYOD program of a particular device is not the answer. If I was a parent, I would be asking for the school to show me a fully developed program for implementation; what the students will use them for, how they will benefit from the learning and what the long term strategy is.

Australia’s public education system is about equality. There may be great benefit to any technological advances in the classroom, but we must we raise the bar for every student, not just the ones who can afford devices.