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As we race to place technology in the hands of students in our schools, let’s consider an alternative view. The New York Times published an article on its front page on October 23, 2011, titled A Silicon Valley School that Doesn’t Compute (by Matt Richtel; at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-school-in-s...)and it’s about the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, a private school in California that eschews the use of computers in Grades K-7 and allows technology to gradually enter the curriculum in Grade 8 (the extent technology is used in its high school is not made clear). The school’s proponents claim technology, especially in the early grades, is a distraction to learning and that the school’s curriculum, which is based upon creative problem solving and kinesthetic activities, will prepare students for success in life. The school, which is in Silicon Valley, has a number of students whose parents are employed by prominent high tech firms such as Yahoo and Google --- so the same parents who dedicate their careers to furthering technology usage in the world are saying it should be used sparingly in schools.
Is a “less is more” approach to technology the path to take in education? Will this philosophy gain broad acceptance? Are educators like me, who claim that education must be built upon a broad foundation of technology, wrong in their assumptions?
No. Here’s why.
1. Technology often improves learning. We know that using technology does not guarantee deeper learning for students unless it is used effectively, but there is a strong sense among seasoned, successful educators that using technology effectively to promote creativity and problem solving tremendously enhances education.
2. A school that intentionally avoids technology is taking a huge risk with the future of its students. In the Times article, a spokesperson for the National School Boards Association states that schools like the Waldorf School are doing a huge disservice to their students by denying them access to technology in their learning. I agree with NSBA. The day will come when their graduates will have to use technology, and schools must give them the skills they need to compete and to thrive. We can’t use a 20th Century model to prepare students for a 21st Century life. Perhaps the Waldorf School’s curriculum does a fine job of promoting creative problem solving − but wouldn’t it be even more effective if technology were used to find solutions?
3. Results from the Waldorf School are inconclusive. There are no studies to indicate that the school’s program is either effective or failing its students (though the school points to a high success rate in its college acceptance rate to validate its approach). On the other hand, there are no conclusive studies to show schools that use technology are more effective than those that don’t use it, but as technology becomes more widely used and as schools push deeper into assessment of 21st Century skills, I believe technology usage will be soundly vindicated.
But in fairness to the Waldorf School and its parents, I understand the reasoning behind avoiding technology in schools.
• A back-to-basics movement, a sort of a “push back” against technology, must be expected as parents see more and more technology enter the classroom. Educators are creating high tech classrooms that are foreign environments for many parents, and as the parents grapple with change, some of them will seek a simpler way of teaching and learning that is easier for them to understand − an education system like the one they had when they were in school. But it is one that grows more obsolete with each passing day.
• We don’t yet know the full positive or negative impact technology will have the on the lives of young people. I think technology will become much more ingrained in student lives, and I can also see a day coming when it might be necessary to actually pull some of our students back from some (but not all) of their technology. Kids must be allowed to be kids. We need to make sure they develop as well rounded individuals and not just as students who stare at screens all day long.
To see if the Waldorf School is an aberration or an approaching trend, let’s try to peer 10, 15, or 20 years into the future, to a time when technology has become affordable and is readily accessible in most classrooms. To what extent will it be used?
Individual choice is a key component of today’s society. We’re already seeing a move to open more charter schools and to provide different paths for students in public schools. In the future, I think parents and students will choose their education paths based partly on the amount of technology being used in the school’s classrooms --- and I bet most of them will choose the schools that offer the most technology.
Technology will continue to make the world flatter, global completion will continue to intensify, and schools, more than ever, will have to bridge the technology divide that will be affecting our lower income students. Let’s not treat technology as the bogey man hiding in the school closet; let’s recognize it as the tool, that when used prudently and creatively, will unlock some of the secrets of learning and will allow all of our students to achieve at higher levels than any students in history.