The pen might still be preferred, but it’s time for the education system to have a rethink, and embrace the digital age.
“The pen is mightier than the sword” is a metonymic adage that has become ingrained in the culture of our society. Throughout history, great works of literature and art have been captured upon paper with the small utility known as the “pen.” We are at a time in our history where we are a part of the rise of technological marvels, through the ever-expanding dimensions of the Internet and digital media. Progress, as bitter as it may seem, bears us witness to the demise of outdated modes of communication, such as our friend the pen.
On April 1, 2016 the Sydney Morning Herald published an article online entitled “‘The reality is that technology is doing more harm than good in our schools’ says education chief.” In this article, it was stated that laptops are detrimental to the learning of students and serve as a distraction to schooling. It drew from the statement from Sydney Grammar School that laptops are unnecessary in class, and that more traditional teaching methods are more effective. The Daily Mail also echoed this, adding that the Darlinghurst boys’ school has actually banned students from bringing laptops to school and requires students to submit handwritten assignments until year 10.
This boggles my mind as I consider what is required of an individual in present day society. Here I am reading articles online with my various devices, sending and receiving information via my devices, while writing this very article again, on…well.
Whilst developing this article I have had to reflect upon my current life and remember just how long ago I had to put pen to paper and actually write something substantial by hand. The last instance of such is back to August 2015 where I was required, for some reason, to write an essay for a university exam. The loudest advocacy that I have come across in support of traditional modes of education have been teachers stating the importance of students knowing how to use a pen specifically because of exams. This same argument returns in online discussion amongst teachers. When confronted by the notions of penmanship being outdated and unnecessary in today’s society, my education degree is called into question and all notions of my professionalism are subject to doubt.
Was there a reason for my students to handwrite an essay for an exam? Not really, except it’s easy to mark.
When I read articles about the ineffectiveness of technology such as laptops in classrooms, instead of thinking banning is the best solution, I think to myself “are the teachers using this technology effectively to best espouse their knowledge in their classroom?” From my experiences as a substitute teacher having to apply another person’s lessons plans to a classroom, I can say it is not. Numerous times I have had to ask students to use their laptops as glorified textbooks during the archaic method of copying text from their laptop, word for word, into a workbook.
Most of us can remember back to the times our teachers asked us to do that when textbooks were made from paper and we prayed for death as the seconds slowly ticked on by as it felt that the mundanity of the classroom would never end. This isn’t using the technology to its potential.
We now live in a world where information is available at such amounts that any question we can think of, we can type into our devices and almost instantly receive the answer crave. Convocations at the pub no longer go, “who was that guy who…?”. Instantly we can Google that question and the convocation progresses. Ignorance is no longer bliss, but a choice. Multimedia is available for a wide range of subjects, almost to the point of any topic which is able to be entertaining is in some way or another creative too. So when I read that assessments, exams and school work need to be completed with outmoded pedagogies, I wonder “why?”
The answer is the typical answer in these circumstances; because that’s the way its always been done. This is the safe way. This is the easy way. This is the lazy way.
Australia has spent $2.4 billion in education supplying students laptops to enhance their education, made possible through the digital education revolution the Rudd/Gillard government initiated. The big problem is not the use of laptops but rather the teachers not knowing how to implement them effectively in their classroom. Minimal time is spent in education degrees at universities in Australia to teach the future educators how to utilise this technology in their class. I believe that the whole model of education needs a rethink. It needs to be about how to implement technology and not just the why. We are still approaching education in the same way. Why? Why is the exam still the most effective means of assessment? Why is there such a focus on handwriting when the future points elsewhere? Why, are we fighting the very age we are supposed to be teaching our students how to navigate?
The fear is that technology is not being effectively controlled in the classroom as students are becoming distracted by social media, but like all technology, there are ways to control this. There are programs that can be installed which give teachers live access to every student’s laptop to monitor what the student is browsing at any moment during school. Or, even simply the tried and true way of blocking certain websites. The future is for those who are technology literate and to retreat to the safety of days gone by is not an effective answer.
As all past technologies have been met with the distrust and outrage of society descending into buffoonery (read Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers for more detailed evidence), really think about how often you use your computer compared to pen and ink for anything substantial in your daily life, and then ask why we persist in glorifying a redundant skill like handwriting.
After all, fighting progress makes fools of us all.