In the past decade, mobile technology has advanced at such an exponential rate, it’s now a part and parcel of everyday life.
Laptops, smartphones, tablets, phablets, apps and social media have become part of the vernacular, connecting us and our virtual footprints to the digital superhighway. These technologies, once thought of as a distraction at school, are now legitimate learning tools for students.
Independent schools, being the microcosms of modern society, are embracing the possibilities that such technology brings for learning and for preparing students for the modern workforce.
Technical know-how is vital
A global study by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) released in late 2015 showed technology was not improving academic results for Australian students.
The study, which included results from students in 70 countries, showed the more students used computers, the lower their results.
When the study was released, the OECD’s education director, Andreas Schleiger, said ensuring children have a good grasp of reading and maths is a more effective way to close the gap than regular use of high-tech devices.
Poor academic results didn’t mean computers should not be used in school, he said, but they opened the conversation about using technology more efficiently and effectively because students who used technology sparingly, had better academic results.
Associate Professor Shanton Chang, a social media and technology expert at the University of Melbourne, says while schools and parents are embracing technology, they should also be teaching children the importance of interpersonal skills that cannot be taught online.
Children are losing these skills – including negotiating with others, resolving conflict and resilience – by being constantly connected to technology.
“Parents worry about their kids falling behind,” Shanton says.
“But parents need to think about this. Eight years ago there was no such thing as the iPhone or iPads. Eight years from now there will be new technologies.
“The IT community, researchers – including myself – are all looking at making IT user-friendly and idiot-proof. If your child has not had an iPad, and then at 13 years of age they introduce a new technology, they’ll be able to use it,” he says.
Studies show there are positives
While the OECD study contends that technology is not helping academic success, the Pew Research Centre and other academic studies show phones, and particularly apps, are helping learning.
The studies show that apps that included games with writing or language helped to improve students’ vocabulary. The US Department of Education and public TV channel PBS developed the Martha Speaks app, which research showed improved children’s (aged 3-7) vocabulary by almost a third (31 per cent).
Other apps involving statistics and mathematics also helped to improve students’ test results. Smartphones and tablets are also improving children’s attention and interest during class.
A study of Year 8 students in the US showed that about a third (35 per cent) reported being more interested in lessons and were exceeding their teacher’s academic expectations when using their tablets.
Investment in technology in schools
The focus on improving educational outcomes using technology has led the Federal Government, since 2014, to commit $17 million to “restore the focus on STEM in Australian schools”.
The money is being used on initiatives to support the introduction of computer coding across different year levels in schools, with the government stating it will “[lead] to greater exposure to computational thinking and, ultimately, expanding the pool of ICT-skilled workers”.
What the schools say
Shelford Girls’ Grammar is one of the many independent schools in Melbourne embracing technology as part of the curriculum.
Principal Polly Flanagan says the school actively encourages young students to learn about technology, teaching subjects that include coding, robotics and animation from Prep to Year 12.
“Shelford students and teachers embrace the technology that supports a Year 1 student to program a Bee-Bot robot, a Year 3 student to access a Stop Motion Pro app to create an animated game, and a Year 9 student to access 4D anatomy on her iPad, to get amazing images that cannot be accessed via books,” Polly says.
“Technology supports innovative thinking and problem solving like never before. While we embrace technology, Shelford Girls’ Grammar also values effective dialogue, where students learn to consider other points of view, challenge misconceptions and develop the ability to think creatively. Technology is a tool, not a crutch, and we must never lose sight of that.
“In the rapidly changing world of the 21st century, the jobs our students will undertake don’t even exist now. In addition to literacy and numeracy, competencies such as creativity, independent thinking, problem solving in technology – rich environments and collaboration, together with attributes such as curiosity, persistence and resilience, will be critical,” she says.
Camberwell Girls Grammar School Principal Debbie Dunwoody agrees, saying education needs to be focused firmly on creativity and creation.
“At Camberwell Girls, we don’t just want our students to use technology, we want them to be creators of it.
“Software is the language of our world and it’s becoming a critical layer of all our lives,” Debbie says.
“It will allow them to create jobs that will grow the economy. We want our students to develop entrepreneurial skills and we know they will need to create their own opportunities in the future [using technology].”