Technology Doesn’t Make Education Better

laptopsinclassThroughout the 19th century and much of the 20th, a liberal arts education meant basic knowledge of Greek and Latin, an understanding of mathematics, the basics of science, proficiency in music and art, in depth discussions of philosophy, and a working knowledge of history. Granted, this was a privilege that most people were unable to afford, but anyone with the means was expected to be able to master all of these topics, with the possible addition of some trade skills.

This seems extravagant by today’s standards, but is it really? Remember that these students did not have the benefit of the internet for research, nor of calculators for math, nor of interactive educational tools of any kind. What they had was books, and teachers who knew what they were talking about and were free to teach as they saw fit. As a model for education, this seemed to work just fine, and the minds produced by this system came up with many of history’s greatest breakthroughs and innovations.

Why, then, do we seem to think that it is no longer possible for this model to work today? What has changed that requires an iPad in every classroom just to barely keep kids literate? The truth is, very little has changed, at least in terms of the way children learn. A recent report reveals hat Finland, with consistently scores high on international education rankings, takes a positively Luddite view towards technology in the classroom, disallowing mobile phones and failing to employ any of the modern tools that American educators seem to value so highly.

The fact that Finnish students are able to learn just fine without fancy computers and Powerpoint presentations proves, at the very least, that technology is not a necessary condition of a good education system. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, we have pretty conclusively shown that neither is it a sufficient condition.

We can argue all day about what makes Finland’s schools successful. Some will claim that it is their strict government control (which it almost certainly isn’t), while others will claim that there is a more fundamental cultural difference (which there almost certainly is). I like to think the sheer lack of technology and focus on old fashioned learning is a contributing factor, but of course I can’t know for sure.

At the very least, though, Finland has demonstrated what many of us have known all along, that children’s minds are perfectly capable of learning without having to resort to high-tech (and extremely expensive) trickery. The underlying problem of western education is more likely attributable to a lack of interest on the part of the students, who are forced to learn subjects that bear little relevance to them at ages when they should be outside playing or at least pursuing their own interests.

Instead, the state insists, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that the only way to improve educational outcomes is to tighten its grip. The concept of recess is already all but forgotten, school hours have been steadily increasing, the age at which schooling begins has been decreasing, and now there is even talk of eliminating summer vacation and keep students locked up all year long. Throughout it all, is the unrelenting call for more and more money, as the greedy, insatiable bureaucracy of public education expands without improving.

If we want to improve the education system, we would do better to focus on hiring competent teachers, allowing students and parents more choice over their curricula, and trying to spark the interest and imagination of children, rather than investing taxpayer dollars in ever more expensive and less effective technologies.

Tags: ,

6 Responses to “Technology Doesn’t Make Education Better”

  1. Miss Zapa says:

    The problem with the traditional model is that too many students struggle to keep up with the professor and miss vital information that later gets tested. Those who do well are not necessarily the bright ones but the ones who can write fast and can take good notes. Technology in the classroom decentralizes information and lets students compete fairly. I am all for it, as long as Internet is limited so that social media will not be a distraction.

  2. 1st Family Virginia says:

    I would suggest that the lack of focus that children, particularly boys, experience is due to a repressive, prison like environment which is combined with a Lord of the Flies social environment, Children need time to be children. They mature at different speeds and develop interests accordingly.

    I have put six kids through public schools in southern California and my children have had to endure teachers who did not understand the subject matter and thus squelched any dissenting opinion or alternate ways of getting to the answers (mostly in math and science). The administration is so concerned with their graduation statistics that they over-discipline the good students and let the bad students slide for fear that the bad ones will drop out. Complain about this and the treat you and your child like pariah.

    My kids feel that they succeeded in spite of the schools rather than with their help. I have encouraged all of them to home school their own children as the schools seem to be getting worse with each passing year.

    • Raja says:

      It may be too late but Milton Friedman had a documentary on public schooling in his Free to Choose series. From what Rothbard wrote in For a New Liberty and Friedman as well, it seems the richer neighborhoods offer better schooling. If it is possible to move to a more expensive house, which requires higher taxes paid to government, the schooling is likely to be of a higher caliber. Of course it's more costly to move to an expensive area and isn't possible in all cases, but is something to keep in mind if an opportunity shows up, say after the second housing crash.

      I suspect in the near future we'll have organizations that will simply test the person and evaluate their educational standard instead of teaching them. This is likely to come about as a result of free education becoming abundant. The idea of paying thousands upon thousands for higher education with no clear benefit is not going to last too long in the face of economic realities.

      • Frank Zeleniuk says:

        There is one clear benefit – the receipt of certification. And that is probably what a majority of students are seeking rather than a higher education. It's a pity that the education itself has, over time, become less important.

  3. Frank Zeleniuk says:

    "…children’s minds are perfectly capable of learning without having to resort to high-tech (and extremely expensive) trickery."

    I believe a pervasive idea in education is that children will not learn therefore all manner of psychological "trickery" must be employed to get them to do so and no expense must be spared to discover why a student can't or doesn't learn all the unnecessary things behaviorists believe are important for them to learn – from social relationships to the new math.

  4. David Howden says:

    As someone who used to use a lot of bells and whistles while teaching economics, I can't agree more. I switched to using the chalk board and students really responded well. I think it's the lack of distractions that makes the difference. I also think that it forces me to teach more simply, since I have to draw/write everything on the board myself. Anecdotally I would guess the average grade in my class went up about 3% from my switch to chalk, and the examples are much more dynamic (e.g., not constrained by the graphics I can find).

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.