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A strategic approach to digital education essential

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Not so long ago, preparing for a new school term meant a trip to CNA for stationery and a visit to the local outfitter for a new uniform. While these purchases are still necessary, these days, parents and learners are using technology to access their schooling needs.
In and out of the classroom, technology is changing the face of schooling. Whether allowing parents to buy supplies online, enabling learners to access their textbooks in electronic format, or even allowing teachers to communicate with their classes after hours and vice versa, modern education is becoming increasingly technology-driven.
There are pros and cons to this, says Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings. “There is no doubt that technology is necessary for learners to prepare themselves for the new work environment that is now being consumed by the knowledge economy, but it needs to be applied strategically by schools. Using tablets in the classroom, for example, might enable learners to access electronic content, but it will not teach them the skills they need when they enter the modern workforce.”
Laptops, on the other hand, will expose learners to the software and tools they will be using in their adult lives, he says. “Tablets are therefore more effective learning tools for the lower grades and are really looked upon by the technology industry as consumption devices.
“However, laptops are better suited for high school learners and are viewed as ‘creative’ devices, and schools need to take cognisance of this when implementing technology programmes. After all, learners and learning is meant to be creative to mould individuals into knowledge workers. I am not sure how many of you reading this article have suddenly seen the disappearance of tablets in business meetings and the re-appearance of the old-fashioned note pad?”
Firth adds that providing access to digital media in schools equally requires a strategic approach. “Schools aren’t the brick and mortar building where learners sit. Teachers make a school. The same applies to the digital environment, where content is vital for learning. Issuing devices to learners with no plan around content is counterproductive and is putting the chicken before the egg.”
Online textbooks, for example, need to be implemented with the same thought and planning as physical textbooks. In addition, schools should evaluate how teachers can use digital approaches to personalise learning and provide the most up to date content without losing the benefits offered by more traditional approaches.
Not only does digital schooling have implications for curricula and evaluation, but it opens the security conversation too, says Firth. “Digital learning by its very nature requires that students go online, and schools are spending huge amounts of money to ensure they have secure networks. However, students have access to open networks when they are not at school, so preventing learners from accessing certain sites while at school is only half the battle won. The ‘moral’ and ‘guided’ use of the Internet must be moved to the forefront of the educational programme.”
He says this is where parents come in. Parents expect schools to secure their children’s digital access, but are equally responsible for teaching them online safety and how to be online savvy. A simple hotspot shared on another learner’s or friend’s device will put the open world of the Internet into any child’s hands, Firth adds.
“Limiting what learners can do on their devices during school hours is counterproductive. Teaching them what they should and shouldn’t be doing is far more valuable and will do more to protect them. Parents and teachers should work together to educate learners on online safety and being online savvy and allow them the freedom to explore within those parameters.”
Firth adds that a strategic approach to digital learning environments will also save schools money in the long run. “Schools have limited budgets, and need to make the most of these when implementing technology programmes. By evaluating which solutions are necessary, which can be most effective, and which are counterproductive, and then implementing them on this basis, schools – and learners – can get all the benefits of technology with far less hassle.”