Technology is essential to education. With it, students can access deep libraries of resources otherwise inaccessible to them. They can learn in more engaging ways, interact with students from around the world, and learn the technical skills and computing best practices that will prepare them for the workforce.
And yet, as education has become more technology-orientated, there is a new risk entering the education system; students that do not have access to the same resources are, potentially, falling deeply behind. We often think of Australia as a nation where technology is ubiquitous, but that is simply not the case.
According to a report by SchoolNews Australia :
- 125,000 public school students lived in dwellings that were reported to have no Internet access in 2016 (the latest available data).
- Nine per cent of students with low family incomes have no Internet access at home.
- Public school students are twice as likely as either Catholic or independent school students to have no Internet access at home.
- Public school students living in remote areas are much more likely to have no Internet access at home.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students were more likely (21 per cent compared to five per cent) to have no Internet access at home.
Access to technology, whether at the home or at school, has been a challenge that companies like One Education have been trying to solve. As One Education CEO, Matthew Ciao, said in a Microsoft fast study on education, “Many schools don't have the budgets to support educators who want to utilise that technology to its full potential. That is where we focus a lot of our efforts, to try and really bridge that digital divide between disadvantaged communities, often remote, and affluent areas.”
To do this, One Education works closely with Microsoft to deploy Windows 10 Pro Education on affordable laptops modelled after the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative. These devices have touch screens, SSDs and are ruggedised to handle day-to-day use by active students. Without the software support, however, update and value to the students would be minimal.
“Microsoft gave us fantastic support when it comes to actually delivering the training educators need to utilise all these tools proactively and effectively. We make sure that the school gets what they want, particularly in line with the processes that they already have in place,” Ciao said.
Learning through games
One of the most compelling examples of where computers have been utilised is in educating via games. For years gamification has been used to both inspire learning and present it in a more palatable way to students. As noted in a feature on The Conversation , one innovative teacher was able to improve classwork participation by giving students “badges”, which parallel the “achievements” and “trophies” that gamers earn in games now. By associating the rewards for classwork with the rewards for gaming, students found themselves working more diligently to qualify for the higher value badges.
Retailer, JB Hi-Fi, has also found value in gaming for its education business. JB Hi-Fi partners with The FUSE Cup, an international esports competition that allows students from years five through 10 to participate in a carefully selected range of games that align with leading educational institutions.
As JB Hi-Fi Solutions National Education Manager, Graham Blackstock, said in the Microsoft fast study, “We want to help schools pick up on a trend like esports and bring it in to the lesson plans and into the pedagogy. Having an eye on what the trends are now and in the future is important to translate and to see if and how they're applicable to schools and education.”
To facilitate the school’s ability to participate in gamified learning, the JB Hi-Fi Solutions team provides technology such as gaming consoles, large displays, laptops and desktop PCs and accessories. The team also helps schools convert halls into esports arenas for competitions.
“We provide knowledge and expertise about how to use the equipment. The idea is that students run those services and not the school IT staff, for example. And that is generating quite a bit of buzz,” Blackstock said.
As the fast study shows, successful education is more than simply facilitating knowledge transfer and preparing students for academic life. It should also be focused on delivering skills that can provide student with whatever they need, regardless of what path they take. That means they need to learn how to use technology, particularly, the kind of technology that they will be using in their personal and professional careers once they have finished up at school.