Monday, March 7, 2011

Low-tech Path to Success

This weekend the Sun Herald printed an article entitled "Low-tech path to success". The article sparked some discussion in our staff room. Our school is currently investigating the addition of more technology to our programs as part of our strategic plan and at first glance this article appears to endorse the belief that students perform better on the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests if they have had no contact with computers in developmental years.

I believe that the article doesn't , in fact, argue that technology leads to poorer results. The article is just reporting on the My School website results and putting forward a league table for year 5. Whether these league tables have any statistical or even societal credence is still a point of fierce contention but leaving that aside lets look at the positions of the article.

  1. Two primary schools that don't use technology in the classroom have made the top 12 list of primary schools in NAPLAN performance for 2010
  1. Two primary schools that embrace unorthodox teaching methods are among the top performers for NAPLAN for 2010

These two statements are true. The evidence can clearly be seen on the MySchool website and is repeated at the beginning of the article for our assessment.

The other statements are quotations made by the schools themselves:

  1. ''electronic media are believed … to hamper seriously the development of the child's imagination - a faculty which is central to the healthy development of the individual.''
  1. ''young children need to communicate and learn without the mediation of complex technology"

These are complex statements that bear closer scrutiny.

Firstly, I don't have anything against Rudolph Steiner and his teachings. Actually, I think that some of the Waldorf Education Principles , including self-led learning are valuable and should be utilised in orthodox education.

Let's look at the article's own statistics to argue some of these points. Firstly, Mumbulla School suggests that electronic media hamper the "development of the child's imagination" and by extension the "healthy development of the individual". No NAPLAN test can measure the healthy development of the individual but the literacy test can go some way to judging the development of the child's imagination. Of the 10 schools in the article's list of top primary schools, that are not Rudolph Steiner schools, all 10 use computers as part of their curriculum delivery and 2 (Dubbo School of Distance Learning and Sydney Distance Education Primary School) use technology to deliver a majority of their content.

The second quote says that "children need to communicate and learn without the mediation of … technology" I would argue that they need to learn to communicate and learn to learn without the mediation of technology because communication and metacognition are part of their humanity. But technology is a tool - a tool used in many different facets of our lives - and it would be remiss of us as teachers to neglect to prepare our students for how the world works. Not to mention availing them of the wonderful and fulfilling opportunities technology makes possible for them. The second quote specifically targets "young children" and as I'm not an early learning specialist I will avoid commenting on the best thing for our very young children and I have read that pre-verbal children can have their communication skills hampered by any screen time (including tv and computer). But Year 5 cannot be considered very young children. They are in the final stage before high-school and should be treated accordingly. They need to be prepared for the world of high-school and then by extension the big wide world in which technology is the foremost method of communicating.

Finally, this is not a controlled assessment. There is no way of determining the causality of the lack of technology at primary school to the NAPLAN results. It may just as well be affected by having a higher proportion of parents who care about their child's education and spend more time with their children in reading to their child. It could also be affected by teachers who are more passionate about their work or who have smaller class sizes. It could be a gifted cohort. The results are also not controlled in that we have data that the children do not use computers in the classroom but have no data as to whether these children use technology outside the school environment.

These two schools should be very proud of their NAPLAN results for 2010. Their success, however, should not encourage the rest of us to discard years of research supporting the link between technology use and engagement and technology use and results. There are good reasons to use technology in the classroom and 10 out of twelve of these schools agree and embrace this use. But technology use or no technology use there is no replacement for good, interactive, adaptive teaching.

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