The best thing technology can do for education

Every year, Bill and Melinda Gates release a letter describing some of the problems the world faces and how we should look at solving them. This year they framed it in the question: “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” Bill chose more energy and Melinda chose more time.

Melinda goes on to describe that one of the biggest problems in the world is time poverty. Work in every household is split into two parts: paid work and unpaid work. They’re pretty self explanatory but you can think of unpaid work as cooking, cleaning, and caring for the other members of the family. She goes on to say that there is no country in the world in which men contribute equally to the unpaid work. This leaves a lot of female human capital on the table.

How does time poverty relate to education?

Teachers also face time poverty but in a different way. Teachers have A LOT of work and very little time. But when thinking of how teachers work, most people only consider the hours spent in the classroom. According to the OECD, US teachers only spend about 55% of their time (this varies by the level they teach) on instruction time (that’s time spent in front of the class).

What do they do with the rest of their time?

  • Grading
  • Paperwork
  • Lesson Planning
  • Extracurriculars
  • Helping students 1-on-1
  • Communicating with parents
  • etc.

It turns out it’s really difficult to find an average total number of hours worked by teachers because it varies so much. Some teachers do the minimum while others are martyrs to their work. Other factors include country, age, grade taught, the kids, salary, expectations, type of school, and the list goes on.

What is generally agreed upon, though, is that teachers work too many hours and aren’t paid enough for it.

Too much of the focus in technology in education is trying to replace the teacher, but technology won’t replace teachers, at least not for a long time. (One quote I really like: “Tech won’t replace teachers, but teachers who use tech will replace those who don’t)

Improving student achievement should be the only metric that is used. If technology improves it, use it. If it doesn’t, don’t. Simple as that.

Measuring student achievement is a different story. Does technology substantially improve it? I could bring endless studies from both sides of the argument. There’s no clear answer.

So what’s the best thing we as developers can do to help teachers?

Save them time!

We can experiment all we want with technology, but it will become clear that the teacher will remain at the head of the class. This will remain true for as far as we can see into the future.

It’s a simple equation really. The more time we save teachers, the more time they can focus on actually teaching. That is the student achievement gain we can get from technology.

For that reason I’m bullish on all forms of technology that save teachers time on the things they do besides teaching: Grading, Paperwork, Lesson Planning, Extracurriculars, Helping students 1-on-1, Communicating with parents, etc.

Saving teachers time is one of our primary focuses at WhatsDue. Before making any product decisions we always ask ourselves: “Does this save teachers time?” and if it does, we go ahead.

Technology growth is exponential, and I think artificial intelligence will have an effect on education, but we’re still a long way from that. For now, if you’re a developer and want to make an impact on education, streamline processes and save a teacher time!

Teachers: what would you do if you had more time in front of students? Comment below!