Not too long ago, the back to school shop consisted of a handful of pens, new shoes and uniform, and a new school bag – all of which would inevitably be ruined by the end of the school year. Now, however, the shop looks rather different.
A survey by uSwitch, a UK-based price comparison website, has found that the modern school bag is more than a vessel for an ink-stained pencil case – it is now a carrier for all the latest gadgets and technologies. The survey found that this year, pupils across Britain will be carrying over £3 billion worth of gadgets in their bags, with the average pupil carrying £270 worth of technology.
Half of the parents surveyed explained that they believed these gadgets would give their children an “educational advantage”, with a third of parents stating that their children rely upon tablets for homework.
With the rise of laptops, tablets, and smartphones, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of education-related apps. The Homework App, for example, allows students to keep track of their timetable, colour code their subjects for easy reference, and generally stay organised with all their assignments, projects, and essays. Similarly, EasyBib makes referencing – the bane of every university student’s life – easy by allowing students to simply scan a barcode and move on.
In some places, however, education technology is more than a handy tool to make school life easier – it’s an integral part of the learning experience. At the start of 2015, for instance, a project was launched in the province of Gauteng, South Africa, which aims to make all schools in the area paperless by the end of the 2017/18 financial year.
The project will provide all high school students with a tablet computer, and will train all Grade 7 primary school students to use the devices. The aim is increase the number of digitally skilled people in South Africa, which will not only boost the country’s economy, but will also help bridge the gap between rich and poor, township and rural, by creating an equality of skills.
Technology is not just transforming education from within the physical classroom, however; it is also increasing access to education.
Distance learning – through organisations like the Open University – has long been a popular route to higher education. Now, traditional institutions are using tools like Skype to offer distance learning courses, and many are looking towards virtual reality technology to improve the experience.
By using technology to enable and improve learning, organisations are ensuring that education is accessible to all.
There are those, however, who are cautious about these new styles of learning. Researchers from the Concordia University in Canada, for example, have conducted a study on the impact of technology on post-secondary education, and they believe that whilst technology can enhance education, face-to-face communication with other students and learners is still essential.
“Plenty of learning comes from having the ability to exchange ideas and challenge one another’s thoughts,” explains Richard Schmid, a researcher involved in the study.
Wendy Norman, Director of Skype Social Good Programs, echoes this view, arguing that the rise of technology in education could actually hinder personal growth. This is because “The nuances of human interaction are lost when a computer is between people.” Whilst technology has improved many areas of education – from procurement, to assessment, to the individual learning experience, nothing can replace the “intuition of a teacher”.
Thus, it seems that although technology is undoubtedly transforming education, traditional modes of learning should still be employed. The use of tablets, apps, and other technology in teaching should be applauded; but so too should the actual teachers.