Rupert Murdoch’s criticisms of Education today and his vision for the future are worth reading. At the same time, I can’t help feel that he is advocating consumerism rather than giving us a sustainable Educational model.
Using the popular and much-loved Steve Jobs as a front for views belonging squarely to the unpopular Murdoch is smart thinking, but I do not share his vision. To me, technology assists good teaching, it doesn’t revolutionise good teaching. You can invest in all the latest gadgets and interactive devices, and without a smart , dynamic and creative teacher behind it, the results will fall short of the mark every time.
Three decades ago, the Department of Education released a report noting that if an unfriendly foreign power had imposed our mediocre education system on us, “we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” In the three decades since, per-pupil spending on K-12 education has doubled—while achievement scores have been flat.
That’s where technology comes in. Just as the iPod compelled the music industry to accommodate its customers, we can use technology to force the education system to meet the needs of the individual student.
For example, say I was trying to teach a 10-year-old about Bernoulli’s principle. According to this principle, when speed is high, pressure is low. Sounds dry and abstract.
But what if I could bring this lesson alive by linking it to the soccer star Roberto Carlos—showing students a video clip that illustrates how his famous curved shot is an example of Bernoulli’s principle in action. Then suppose I followed up with an engineer from Boeing—who explained why this same principle is critical in aviation and introduced an app that could help students master the concept through playing a game. Finally, assessment tools would give teachers instant feedback about how well their students had mastered the material.
Textbooks aren’t the only area for savings. Rocketship charter schools in San Jose, Calif., use a model that combines traditional classroom learning with tutor-led small groups and individualized instruction through online technology. So far the mix has brought higher performance with lower costs—savings that can be used to pay teachers more, hire tutors, and so on.
Let’s be clear: Technology is never going to replace teachers. What technology can do is give teachers closer, more human and more rewarding interactions with their students. It can give children lesson plans tailored to their pace and needs. And it can give school districts a way to improve performance in the classroom while saving their taxpayers money.
Everything we need to do is possible now. But the investments the private sector needs to make will not happen until we have a clear answer to a basic question: What is the core body of knowledge our children need to know?
I don’t pretend to be an expert on academic standards. But as a business leader, I do know something about how common standards unlock investment and unleash innovation. For example, once we established standards for MP3 and Wi-Fi, innovators had every incentive to invest their brains and capital in building the very best products compatible with those standards.
We are now seeing the same thing happening in education. Over the last few years, leaders and educators in more than 40 states have come together to reach agreement on what their students should know and be able to do in math and English—and by what grades.
Call me sceptical or old-fashioned but I believe Mr. Murdoch’s intentions is to get schools to open their chequebooks. The more schools invest in SmartBoards and iPads the more they realise that whilst they are extremely useful, they are far from the answer.