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The Future Is Now: How to Write About EduTech Accurately

By Steve Vosloo on July 22, 2016


After a year of conferences and education trade shows, I am convinced that my fellow technologists and development experts are not fully realizing the radical change that innovation, by which I mean technology, and of that, just digital communications, is metamorphosing education.

We MUST radically change the way we report on EduTech to mirror this metamorphosis!

In today’s world, technology is everywhere and enables everything – except education. For the most part, education is still shackled by the 19th century sausage machine that at its best takes in children and spits out adults trained to work in factories, obediently following orders and never thinking for themselves.

Or as we know, in many parts of the world, not even doing that, but failing every child in every school – just look at all the iNGOs photos of poor children in dilapidated village schools. We are obviously failing a generation of African and Asian children unless we immediately add a magical elixir – a silver bullet to solve all problems: technology!

But there is hope. For children and technology have found each other with earth-shattering advances like One Laptop Per Child, One SMART Board Per Classroom, One Projector per Teacher, and other amazing technology-first solutuons. They are inspiring a disruption in learning and teaching that will change everything we know about education – like radio, TV, and overhead projectors did before them.

We as ICT4Edu experts have a duty to hype these exciting events and froth about them with unbridled enthusiasm.

How to Write About EduTech

If you are going to write about education in the “developing” world, and we know you will, if only to appease your donor, be sure to start your piece by invoking stories of massive transformation and progress. Use phrases like “paradigm shift”, “seismic change” and “revolution”. Summon images of digital tsunamis washing over us from the 21st century (despite it being 2018, people still think of the 21st century as a Utopian future – work this angle).

Immediately cast children as inquiring and hungry for knowledge, as dissatisfied with the education offering that is analogue, un-personalised and non-adaptive to their learning styles. This happens when they have limited or no access to technology, which you then tee up as brimming with promise, as the only enabler of the education that is needed for the future, the only way to prepare our children for jobs that don’t yet exist.

Remember, “technology” can only mean computers, mobile phones, and apps. Don’t overthink these definitions.

Despite what people say, technology is not neutral – it is undeniably positive! Technology is imbued with the one quality needed for the education of the future: intelligence. Just by using technology, intelligence infuses into children, like stardust from a magic meteor that only children can see.

Technology is Magic!

With technology thus introduced, you can now start in earnest to effuse about the magic that happens when children and technology meet. It is best to contrast the new learning paradigm against the old ways – “old” being any way that is not practiced in elite, experimental, and hyper-expensive Silicon Valley private schools.

Firstly, children don’t need to be trained to use technology. They were born with it; they are digital natives after all. Always stress the point that if only teachers and parents got out of the way, the children would fly with technology.

There are wonderful experiments underway that you must reference, which testify to the instinctive affinity of these kids for all things digital. People from the West are dropping – “Gods Must Be Crazy” helicopter-style – tablets on village children in Ethiopia. Others are putting computers into walls of slums.

No training, no manuals, no facilitators – just shiny gadgets that the kids pounce upon and start playing with, instantly and magically becoming the next Google guys with inherent digital literacy. And boy, do they play. It is mind-boggling and absolute proof – if we ever needed any – that teachers no longer have a place in this brave new world.


Demonize Teachers At Will

Frankly, for the most part, teachers are the problem. Demonize them at will. They are digital immigrants – poor, helpless, and naked in the world of technology. While many of them were educated in a pre-digital world, just like you, and seem to have done ok with their lives, this must never be acknowledged. When they “don’t get it”, it’s because they just don’t get it. It’s not their fault; they weren’t born digital. Let them go – we cannot look backwards.

There is, mercifully, a small group of teachers who have entered the 21st century. Such enlightened teachers pinch-and-zoom the curiosity of the bright young things in their care, bringing them ever closer to the world’s knowledge. Praise these teachers. Offer them as role models to the Luddites who still hold our children in the bondage of the Analogue Age. After all, they are innovative innovators, innovating innovation.

Always look to the future. Write about progress, about not getting left behind. Things are moving fast; to stand still is to drift backwards. Use the word “innovation” in every paragraph – every sentence, if you are innovative enough. Write about how the digital bus has left the station and is buzzing along the information superhighway, onwards and upwards. Don’t ask where the power is coming from, or what content might be on it.

Ignore other basic metrics like test scores or grades – that’s just conformism lacking the ability to celebrate the unique qualities of every child. Damn other data, if any, unless it’s “Big Data”, which is always sexy. Best if you can combine Big Data with Open Data, in which case you can say pretty much anything you like.

Always Be Bold!

Proclaim the latest app is the next solution to education, like Thomas Edison who, in 1922, proclaimed that “the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.” He was right, and you can be too!

Remind readers that Facebook and Instagram have made our culture visual. Don’t just write, but show. When photographing children using tech, make sure you capture the glow of the screen lighting up their faces. This is not only from the tablet’s light; the child’s face itself is glowing back in wonder.

She is deeply engaged in self-directed learning. If she is playing a game then, it’s an educational game and she is in a state of flow: so wholly absorbed and focused that she loses track of time. After taking the snap, be still for a moment, for you a witnessing a small miracle. Note that to your readers.

If you are reporting on new tablet implementations at school, it is important to clearly draw a line in the sand of the learners’ lives. Before today they lived in the Dark Age of Analogue, but now a great light is illuminating the learning path forward into the FUTURE! It would not be hyperbolic to say that everything has changed, FOREVER.

Skip Your Personal Tech Fail

If you harbour a dark and dirty secret, that ICT4E has not always metamorphosed your life as it has those of your children, then you can include, at the end, a throwaway sentence or two about the need for teacher training, solid infrastructure, better learning apps, and supportive policies.

But, really, you shouldn’t suck up to your own guilt; don’t include these points, as they are as irrelevant as Internet access costs, maintenance and support issues, or even working electrical outlets at the schools. These quibbles only detract and rob children from the promise of ICT4E.

Embrace Technology Always

As always, there will be doubters. For those not yet converted into the church of Technology, you will hear protestations of too much screen time. Of how WhatsApp and Candy Crush are behind the rise of ADHD. Of the need for balance, for getting outside and kicking a ball in real life (IRL) and having a conversation face to face (f2f).

But you would do well to point out that in this connected world, ADHD is because of too little screen time. These young minds have an insatiable hunger for communication, information and engagement. Depriving them of these will lead to under stimulation, boredom, an inability to concentrate, and finally high levels of anxiety. Urge these parents to give back the tablet, without limits, to cure ADHD with what the child truly needs: the digital glow of her bright future online.

Finally, close with a personal anecdote (far more impactful than actual research statistics, and mush easier to find). A proven winner is a story about your own child, who, at age four, walks up to the family TV and tries to swipe it, touch-screen style. In their world every surface is a tactile window into an ocean of knowledge and connections.

Surely that says it all about our digital wunderkinds and how education needs to change for them. Success is only a swipe away, if teachers could just get out of the way.

Author’s note: This tongue-in-cheek piece draws inspiration from Binyavanga Wainaina’s satire, “How to Write About Africa.”

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Steve Vosloo is passionate about using technology in education. He's worked at UNESCO, Pearson South Africa, Stanford University, and the Shuttleworth Foundation on the use of mobile phones for literacy development, how technology can better serve low-skilled users, and the role of digital media for youth. All opinions expressed in this post are his own.
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