American education has endured an arguably tumultuous journey in the last decade. In particular, the average suburban classroom is now littered with all sorts of high-tech gadgetry: from jaw-droppingly expensive Promethean smartboards to silver iPads to Google Chromebooks for high schoolers and kindergartners alike, technology has integrated itself within the learning environment of our students. But as American education consistently scores below the top-10 threshold, our so-called “EdTech” may not be as important as bureaucrats think, and in fact, I argue an emphasis of it actually impedes the classroom dynamic.
Is EdTech Really New?
Over 50% of K-12 students have access to laptops or tablets during classroom instruction, while 84% of American teachers consider technology and high-tech devices to be an essential part of each day. Still, being that the majority of middle-class students own similar devices at home, computers and tablets serve as potential distractions for learners. Teachers must set technological boundaries or will succumb to students tempted to play with these devices than to complete classwork. Firewalls are a low-cost solution for blocking these potential distractors, which often include YouTube and popular online games.
Still, we must consider that there are students who don’t have access to certain technology outside of the classroom. Rather than implement district-wide initiatives to promote EdTech solutions, schools should create programs to give less-fortunate kids laptops and related devices. These programs will help alleviate the socioeconomic issues that dampen EdTech’s potential.
The competitive landscape of EdTech is rather complex. Nowadays, with virtually hundreds of innovative startups hungry for leverage in the growing technology and education sector, allegedly “new” tech gadgets are simply upgraded versions of competitors’ devices. School officials, as a result, waste far too much time choosing between a myriad of tech solutions that seem astonishingly similar.
Affecting the Classroom Dynamic… For the Worse
Probably the biggest argument for EdTech is its ability to automate repetitive tasks. Students can easily record information on laptops and tablets, whereas writing an essay on paper, for instance, takes significantly more manpower—and pencil lead.
All to be said, these devices disconnect students from social interaction. For centuries, verbal communication was a key skill learned in the primary and secondary school environment, not necessarily inside the classroom. As students are exposed more and more to handheld technology—and smartphones are intertwined in the lives of kids as young as ten—these roles have flip-flopped. Indeed, the classroom is now becoming the center for social interaction. Technology merely impedes verbal communication and ultimately thwarts the social element of today’s rapidly changing schools.
I believe it’s unlikely that EdTech will replace teachers because EdTech is designed to supplement learning. That being said, online platforms like Khan Academy are specially programmed to teach students independently. Still, we spend too much of our budget on education for it to be replaced by handheld devices.
We must adapt to a changing technological landscape, and while I contend that EdTech is a step in the right direction, it isn’t the underlying solution for our lackluster educational programs. Instead, budgeters must allocate financial resources toward improving the quality of school infrastructure in order to change the social climate of our schools and close the socioeconomic gap between our millions of talented students.