With the release of a new Chrome tablet created exclusively with school children in mind, parents, educators and the general public are asking themselves about the wisdom of that level of immersive technology in schools. They didn’t have their own tablets when they were in school, so modern children don’t need them either, many argue.
Why Technology is Good for Education
Since the 1980s, tech companies have been trying to figure out how their equipment could fit into the educational ecosystem.
Macintosh computers started appearing in classrooms in 1984, but at a rate of just one system per 125 students. When 2012 rolled around, there were five computers for every nine students. Despite this long history and increasing access, an analysis of educational trials from around the world found that there was “little or no positive effect” on test scores. Others have found that there’s no link between IT spend and 15-year-olds’ reading, science or math skills.
That was then. This is now.
Even though the timespan hasn’t been particularly long since those studies and reviews were published, the tech world has changed completely. EdTech, the name given to technology developed exclusively for education, has grown and changed. Where once technology in the classroom meant questions and answers on a screen, it now means interactive and engaging educational content on a tablet. The benefits of technology in education cannot be underestimated now that machine learning is in the mix.
Artificial intelligence with machine learning can not only help assess student knowledge, it can also allow students to learn at their own pace, filling in any skills that are lacking as it goes. According to The Economist, software that takes the role of responsive tutor absolutely can speed up a student’s learning. They also allow students a hands-on educational experience that they are really very invested in.
Who’s Investing in EdTech?
Of course, no good deed ever goes unpunished. Already, investors are jumping all over the chance to get a piece of the growing education technology market. Mark Zuckerberg’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is encouraging schools to adopt the EdTech it has in development, then help that tech spread worldwide. The EdTech market in America and Europe is estimated to grow from the $75 billion sector it was in 2014 to a $120 billion valuation in 2019.
Other companies working on education technology include companies like ALEKS, Knewton and DreamBox Learning. Carnegie Mellon University’s ArticuLab is developing a voice-recognition based tool called Alex that acts as a virtual peer. Alex speaks to students in their own vernacular, making them feel more comfortable in class. Initial findings have already shown that black children may learn science quicker with a vernacular-using Alex, as opposed to speaking in standard dialect.
Arguments Against Technology in the Classroom
Despite how much potential EdTech holds for shaping the future of education, there are a few very valid concerns about giving students tablets as soon as they get to school.
One raised by some cognitive scientists, like Benjamin Riley of learning charity Deans for Impact, is that students are being taught early how to avoid thinking at all. Riley argues in The Economist that, “Our minds are not built to think.” School is meant to teach us how, according to him.
Others argue that growing up with Google will mean that students won’t memorize any facts, therefore limiting their ability to think critically and creatively. But considering that even schools that have heavily implemented educational technology still limit screen time to 20 to 30 percent of the day, the fear of human-Google brain fusion is one that has little merit. Besides, most people can’t help but remember a few of the things they find while out on the Internet.
New Tech, New Ways of Thinking
Being able to give children the opportunity to learn, despite any gaps in knowledge or lack of skills, is an incredible thing. With the help of machine learning AIs, it could be possible to help kids who struggle with schoolwork without having to separate them from their peers. The old method of a cold computer asking questions and providing the proper answer is out, smart software that can deliver an engaging experience for every student is in.