Almost every American kid today steps back in time nearly 20 years when he or she enters a classroom in the morning, then pops back to the future after leaving school at the end of the day. The access, connectivity and resources commonly available in everyday life are mostly absent from the one place where they could have real benefit – our schools.
Education powers our democracy, our society, our economy and our understanding of the world, yet the educational system is stuck in the 19th century, when farming and factories were the major job categories. Think about how much more knowledge is needed to run a business, conduct a scientific study, win a race, preserve a forest, heal your father, mother or friend or even build a computer.
The newly released National Education Technology Plan – “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology” provides a long overdue blueprint for transforming American Education. The Plan focuses specifically on supporting teachers and students using technologies common today. We already know that in the more progressive schools, teachers do not stand alone, but are part of a teaching team that strives to understand the whole child, across disciplines of math, science and the humanities. Students have access to resources, their library, each other and their teachers over larger parts of the day, allowing them to learn from and work with each other and to access a vast array of digital resources all day long.
It’s hard to talk about changing education, never mind transforming it. Education is, after all, the one institution to which we entrust our children for the larger part of a day. Discussions about changing education run the gamut of emotions, raise tensions and reveal deeply held beliefs – whether accurate or not.
What’s real is this: teachers are working harder and harder but their students aren’t learning more and more in direct proportion. Teachers are saddled with administrative tasks that take time away from what they really love doing and do best: training young minds. As a society, we noticed the troubles, so we worked harder to test kids on simple facts – and knowing facts is necessary – but we do not test their ability to use these facts to analyze phenomena or synthesize new knowledge. We don’t test for understanding. And we certainly don’t test as the child is learning, in real time, when there’s ample time to address deficiencies.
Technologies, like those we are working on at Intel, can relieve teachers of many administrative burdens. For example, teachers already give multiple choice tests. Imagine giving a short quiz in every class, easily distributed to every child on his/her own computer, with just a few questions, instantly graded. The teacher would have a day to day overview of each child’s understanding of the material, whether he or she did a good job, or needs to review, whether the kids were paying attention or worried about their next class or who they’re going to sit with at lunch.
It’s hard to imagine a more worthwhile investment than the education of our children. They will be our leaders before most of us are long gone. They will be our leaders in a complex, interrelated, multi-faceted world with more information to sort through in one day than most of our ancestors could have accessed in their entire lives. We – you and I – need these kids to be as sharp, inquisitive and prepared as possible. They – students and teachers – need all the tools they can get, and the ability to use them effectively.