A few years ago, a study was released about the merits of handwriting over typing. Our technology-focused world, it said, may be impeding the cognitive processes of our young. Our focus with technology, it posited, was depriving our children of necessary life and processing skills.
E-books were next. A Harvard study found that light emitting devices interfere with our sleep. Another study found that readers retain more information from the printed page. Learning via technology, allegedly, would never be as good as traditional learning.
For me as an individual, I can certainly relate. I prefer handwriting to typing. I know if I write down a physical list I will cross off more items than if I put the same list onto my smartphone. While I own an e-reader and have a shocking Amazon habit, I prefer the process of browsing a bookstore for a physical copy than simply hitting ‘Buy now’ in my web browser.
However. I have two children: one is dyspraxic, which affects handwriting and coordination; the other is dyslexic, which makes words jumble on the printed page. For my family, typing and e-readers respectively are among many tools enabling my children to excel despite the limitations of their learning difficulties. For my dyslexic child, audiobooks – both on their own or used with the real book in hard – has opened up worlds he could never have accessed on his own. For my dyspraxic child, we are slowly getting to grips with a dictation programme that does the writing for him.
Schools across the globe have cottoned on to the fact that children learn differently. What helps students to best retain information varies – for some it’s the physical act of writing the information down, for some it’s hearing it, and for others it’s visual. Sometimes, it’s a combination of all three.
And this is where technology should take over education. There are too many engaging and informative education apps to name – from interactive science tutorials to an online literacy platform that enables users to ‘reach’ into a text, from time-machine tours of history and enabling students to collaborate on projects. But many of these apps and platforms are on the periphery of the curriculum instead of embedded in it. They are add-ons to the learning experience, rather than a part of it. Education tech and its applications are truly a diverse wonder, leaving parents, teachers and schools spoilt for choice on how to leverage technology to supplement learning and engage students.
But it’s time to go beyond this. It is time for education technology to be inextricably tied to the curriculum. We, for example, have an app that allows my dyslexic child to download audiobooks on topics he’s learning in school. But instead of having to listen to curriculum-related audiobooks at home, why not have him do that at school? Why not have school books as e-books combined with audio so he can enlarge the text and listen as he follows, enabling him to partake in his classes when he’s there, as opposed to playing catch-up with audiobooks when school is over? Or, for my dyspraxic son, who is so embarrassed by his handwriting that he avoids even writing his name on worksheets, why not have all his work, tests, and quizzes available on a dictation-enabled tablet? Right now, these things are “extra,” requiring more work on behalf of his already stretched teachers and their decreasingly finite resources. But what if the education landscape made this kind of learning more accessible, both for teachers, schools, and parents? What if the education system was disrupted so that schools and teachers can easily provide what are currently considered “concessions” as an integral part of learning?
The technology is already here. The applications are already here. Who will be brave enough, forward-thinking enough, and disruptive enough to spearhead the edutech ecosystem that enables us to move beyond separate apps for learning and holistically integrate technology into the education landscape?
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