At the last New Delhi World Book Fair, held in January, there were stalls upon stalls of companies selling “educational aids”. Indeed, it was impossible to go anywhere on the fair premises without running into a start-up eagerly handing out CDs or DVDs guaranteed to make learning a pleasure for your children.
In most cases, the educational aids were nothing more than poorly animated cartoons of Jack falling down a pixelated hill, or some psychedelic adaptation of a Panchatantra tale. Children stood to gain nothing more enlightening than a mild hangover from all that infotainment.
But for years experts have been forecasting a technological revolution. They’ve told of a future where television, computers and gadgets would change the way we ran our schools and taught children.
Nothing like that has happened yet. But it is not for want of trying. The government recently announced a $35 touchscreen tablet, targeted at schools and colleges, with tremendous alacrity.
This is on the back of programmes such as the One Laptop Per Child that has sought to take computer-aided education to the poor. Mostly with questionable impact.
The real change, it appears, is not happening in the way children are using tools. The debate isn’t really about a Kindle vs a textbook vs a tablet.
Instead, new research shows that one of the biggest changes in education is in the way young people are dealing with knowledge and information.
A story published in The New York Times earlier this week, titled “Plagiarism lines blur for students in digital age”, says that more and more students think nothing of plagiarising from the Web. According to one report cited in the story, the percentage of students who consider copying from the Web “serious cheating” has declined considerably over the last decade.
On the face of it, it looks like a serious problem. Teachers and students quoted in the story sound alarmed at the disregard for intellectual property and authorship. But is that really the problem?
Assuming our children grow up into a future which is even more “connected”, what could be the skills they need to survive? Will it be the mental horsepower to remember things? Or the technological ability to seek out information, find tools and then crunch numbers?
The moral issue of student plagiarism remains. But this tendency to instinctively seek information online might be a good thing. If so, the real issue is not how to use technology to teach. But to teach how to use technology.
Will technology upstage traditional learning patterns? Tell us at email@example.com