I started as a teacher in 1987. I began as a high school Maths teacher in Jamaica, then worked as an EFL instructor to teenagers and adults in Poland, South Korea and Thailand. I trained as a primary class teacher in the UK and France, taught primary from Year 4-6 in the UK, France, Thailand and China, and then home-schooled my own children through IGCSEs and A-Levels.
Gary John Ilines
BA Honours, CTEFLA, PGCE Modern Languages, MA International Education
Technology has, depending on your imagination and willingness to abandon long-cherished beliefs, many uses in education. One of the most interesting uses, in my view, is how technology exposes the chasm between what real education is or could be, and the reality of what goes on in classrooms and school-based education.
Computers have been around for decades. In 1981, for $99.99 a boy aged eleven took home the UK's first affordable home computer. Thirty-six years later, school-based education, even in expensive private schools with the money available to make the leap, is exactly the same as it was when that eleven-year-old boy started secondary school in 1981. Nothing has changed in four decades as a result of the introduction of technology.
Lots of things have changed you might argue: interactive whiteboards, tablets, SIMS (for those of you familiar), emails to parents, reports written digitally so you don't have to rewrite all your reports because you confused your spelling of practice and practise, intranets, teachers busily pouring over Google Images twenty minutes before class. However, on closer examination all of these technologies are just different ways - in some cases more convenient and higher quality, in some cases not - of doing the same things that teacher have been doing since the Victorian era.
There are also those who argue that, even in areas where ICT has improved the learning experience in schools, there is an opportunity cost in terms of where that money and the time taken to learn and adapt to the new technologies could have been alternatively directed.
This is why I suggest that the use of technology in schools is illuminating the flaws of this educational model. It cannot adapt. It cannot take advantage of the opportunities afforded by technology. It is rigidly stuck in its own paradigm of what it thinks education is and it cannot break out of it. After forty years of personal computers and thirty years of the Internet, one might expect that public education would have been transformed, but it is exactly the same. Even the way ICT itself is taught in schools - in a classroom with a teacher and everyone doing essentially the same thing - is revealing and the mind boggles at the lack of creativity and ability to adapt and be imaginative of the education system and those in it. Educators have attempted to integrate technology into an existing system rather than seizing this opportunity of rethinking the whole concept. The result is exactly the same product, just digitalised.
I, with many others, have long argued that the prevailing military and standardised style of education needs to be completely abandoned. The education system's complete inability to break out of the box - even with the tools of technology at its fingertips - emphasises that the education system as it stands will never be reformed from within. The great educationalist Ken Robinson provides a comedic moment in one of his talks when he shows a photo of a school's 'Resources Centre' and on the door there is a sign banning mobile phones; "a resource centre but resources are not allowed." A system which is based on standardisation and control cannot embrace an information age which has the potential to set people free.
There are various reasons for why the education system appears completely incapable of radical change - such as the turkeys will never vote for Christmas argument, or the hidden hand - but the complete inability to reform or even improve education when all this ICT is available is compelling evidence that things will never get better until we start again with a blank sheet of paper. Many will say this is irresponsible but, like the European Union, all the historical signs are there that meaningful reform is improbable from within (or without) and we need to trash it all and start again.
And this is what I am doing. This is not idle comment. I left my career as a school teacher, took my kids out of school and I am currently teaching a wide range of students in completely unique ways which would be impossible without the technology of computers and the Internet. Some of my students are not even living in the same country as me. But, to be clear, I am not using technology to do the same old things in a different way - it is completely different. I can't here tell you how to do it because that defeats the point. There is no one way to do it - that's the point. One of the starting points is the individual journey - students taking control of their own education. It drives me mad when I hear well-meaning educators talking about how 'learning should be fun'. Learning IS fun. It's the prison walls of schools and their 'subjects' and 'syllabuses' which make it not fun. Mainstream educators talk about the Internet as a source of information and yet you still have a curriculum and subjects. So what you are saying really is this: Students can use this infinite resource of information but they will continue to study the postage stamp of knowledge which is prescribed by bureaucrats. How is that an improvement?
So as an educator I can use computers and Internet technology to begin a student on a new journey, an individual journey. This is a leap of faith for many students and their parents. Questions I ask such as "what are you interested in learning about?" or "what is your educational goal?" are difficult to answer for people who their whole lives have been spoon-fed their learning.
Education is learning how to be free. It is an individual journey which requires an enlightened and skilful teacher as a guide until the student becomes an independent learner. Technology has made this possible and technology has shown that this will almost certainly never happen if left to the education system which, after forty years of access to technology previously unimagined, is still the same prison of the mind that it always was.© Copyright Gary John Ilines.