N Touch
Wednesday 19 June 2019
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ICT, teacher policy and student learning


THE RECENT decision by the Ministry of Education to distribute laptops to school for specific use by teachers at their professional discretion as a medium to deliver curriculum is a welcomed one and must be applauded.

This shift in policy position by the ministry reflected some of the comments TTUTA would have advanced when the ministry introduced its one laptop per child initiative.

The programme of teacher training that is being embarked upon to ensure that the technology is put to appropriate use as a teaching and learning device must also be applauded.

Again this was one of the recommendations advanced by TTUTA and it is heartening to see that the advice was embraced. It is now up to teachers to engage the technology to enhance curriculum delivery and student learning outcomes.

However, the ministry must concomitantly advance a clear policy position on the use of information and communication technology in the delivery of curriculum, bearing in mind the rapid rate with which the technology is advancing and the global threats to privatisation in education and concurrent attempts by giant technology providers to get their hands on the monies invested by governments in education.

We must be on guard to these invasive threats through the introduction of the requisite policy guidelines. Failure to set these clearly defined parameters to govern the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) can lead to negative and unanticipated outcomes.

The requisite physical and technical infrastructure must also be provided to schools to ensure security and resource maximisation. Failure to do this will render the entire initiative useless and another waste of taxpayers’ dollars.

We must also be mindful of the attempts by private education technology providers to impose generic learning programmes on schools and to introduce cheap substitutes for teachers such as massive open online courses as well as the development and promotion by technology companies of artificial intelligence (AI), including 24-hour surveillance, as a substitute for human agency in pedagogy, research and life skills.

No matter how good the technology is or promises to be, the teacher can never be replaced in the classroom and overdependence on technology must be avoided always. There is a growing body of evidence to show that the overdependence on technology can undermine student well-being. We are all too familiar with the realities of cyberbullying and social media.

Like any technological development there are always downsides and the potential to misuse. We must thus be vigilant to the introduction via technology, especially AI and biotechnology, of binary polarities into education that bring into question long accepted aspects of human knowledge, as well as the increasing gathering and manipulation of big data by private technology companies to evaluate students and teachers and undermine privacy.

TTUTA has long advocated that there is little relationship between simply introducing learning technologies and enhancing student learning. The technology by itself will not enhance student learning outcomes. The teachers’ capacity to deploy the technology in context is what will make the difference we seek.

Given the foregoing, TTUTA wholeheartedly embraces the positive opportunities provided by ICT to enhance the quality of learning and ICT’s potential to enrich educational activities and communications between educational institutions, educators and learners as set out in Education International’s International Protocol on the Use of Information and Communications Technology.

We also underscore the importance of digital awareness, literacy and citizenship and the central role of teachers and other educators in evaluating and deciding on the appropriate use of ICT in teaching and learning as well as the central role they and other educators play in generating innovation in schools, across schools and in local and national educational communities along with the equality implications of access to ICT for students and teachers.

We are aware of the vital need for teachers and other educators to receive and own relevant professional learning and development in ICT and the potential for ICT to reduce workload. At the end of the day the technology must compliment the effort of the teacher without his/her marginalisation.

The human touch in education cannot be performed by artificial intelligence and we must resist the temptation to be overwhelmed by the false sense of security ICTs can sometimes provide. Teachers deliver curriculum in both formal and informal contexts because human development cannot take place in a vacuum. It must take place in a context of universally accepted human values. The initiative may be late but is undoubtedly a welcome one.

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