Schools are under a lot of pressure to deliver short term academic results – but what they need to focus on is delivering on a longterm vision. Short term priorities can lead to ineffective investment in gadget giveaways to students, which may grab news headlines, but are less likely to change educational outcomes.
“Schools will buy technology and distribute devices, but these are steps. Don’t make them the journey,” says Anthony Salcito, Microsoft VP Worldwide Education. “I would caution against building a strategy based on a series of implementation steps that are not connected, or even understood by teachers, parents and pupils.”
What is education for?
“Leaders need to ask themselves, ‘why are we doing this? what do we want to achieve?’” he continues. “I would challenge a teacher who says that their vision is about achieving high test scores. The vision should be about maximising a student’s impact. To do that they go to college. So college enrolment becomes a priority. So you can see how as you ladder down the steps, only at the bottom do you start talking about technology. Its role is in support of the vision. When you focus just on devices, this focus is not linked to what you want to achieve.”
According to Salcito, city and school leaders need to build a technology roadmap to support a vision – and not the other way round.
A vision of ever higher pass rates is unlikely to equip students with the skills they need to prosper in an economy which looks very different to the past. The reality is that the workforce is fundamentally shifting, notes Salcito, and that the fastest-growing industries require skills that are not being taught in the classroom.
“40 per cent of jobs go unfilled in Brazil. This is not down to a shortage of people, but to a shortage of skills. The same is true of many other countries,” he explains. “The economy is now much more technology and services oriented. This requires us to think differently about what we are teaching. Collaboration, creativity need to be central to the learning experience.”
The way Salcito sees it, education is not just a foundation for the future – it has immediate implications for meeting the economic needs of today. All too often students learn material ‘because it is in the test’. If education leaders develop a proper vision, then students will be able to connect the dots between what they are learning, and why they are learning it: “Students need to be celebrating skills as part of their career aspiration,” he says.
Many teachers can be resistant to the introduction of technology into the classroom, and Salcito believes this is because school leaders are not doing enough to show that technology is a tool to make teachers more effective – rather than a reflection of impending pedagogical obsolescence.
“When teachers get technology, they might fear that they will be displaced. Actually the opposite is true – technology gives teachers a platform to share their insights and to reach more students,” he asserts.
“Scale is a universal problem in education. Time and time again we see that good ideas don’t scale. Lots of schools will do lots of pilots, that may provide good results, but often the officials aren’t able to share this best practice. Even within schools you see pockets of innovation within schools, which aren’t being shared,” notes Salcito. “Technology plays an important role in empowering teachers to focus on educational excellence.”
Salcito believes that you can be an amazing teacher with technology, and yet use no technology within the school: “By using the class for discussion and exploration, and letting students use technology outside of the class, you allow teachers to leverage the power of technology, without having to be technology experts.”
“This is the goal. Once educators know that, they’re free,” he concludes. “They’re going to understand that it is a learning journey, not a technology journey.”
This story was first published on FutureGov on April 22, 2015.