No End to Magical Thinking When It Comes to High-Tech Schooling – Larry Cuban

No End to Magical Thinking When It Comes to High-Tech Schooling – Larry Cuban

It irks me that so many people are positioning themselves as tech-pocolyptics … bemoaning the view that technology is the cause of our problems and that money is being wasted trying to make schools technology hubs.

Cuban’s blog, while usually interesting, takes a view that technology is being wrongly viewed as a ‘magic bullet’ to solve all of educations problems. Cuban has asserted, mistakenly, that “many fantasize” about the notion of technology replacing teachers.

Humans are, by our very nature, social creatures. The internet is redefining the way people interact, no doubt, but not isolating people like some would suggest. The internet is creating a space, a new literacy, where people can interact in larger, less structured groups.

Teachers will be replaced by devices and robots? The idea is ludicrous. It’s even more ludicrous to suggest that many fantasize about it. There will always be teachers. Perhaps we will call them mentors or guides. But they will be educators and their space will change as new technologies emerge (which is a good thing, since education has been static for over a century). So on one hand Cuban can generalise that there’s a desire for teachers to become redundant, but educators will always have a place in society – it’s just that their role might be redefined – which is long overdue.

Cuban’s critique on Mitra’s TED talk and his ambitions for cloud learning is also unwarranted. Cuban is also quick to point out the perceived failure of the OLPC (one laptop per child) program. He alludes to Mitra’s inevitable failure as well.

Failure is not a bad thing. As an eminent academic once said to me “fail early, fail often”. This is a way of learning through experimentation. OLPC was doomed to failure but that’s not the point. Mitra’s cloud schooling in India will never be a success, but that’s not important either. What’s important is that these people are pushing at the edges of learning and technology and finding ways of making it work.

Ask any scientist how often they fail compared to how often they succeed. Why are we so afraid of failure?

While I agree that education has a tendency to shoehorn technology in the classroom and hope it’s a success. But there needs to be a differentiation between the politics of “student / computer ratios” and educational innovators who are trying to find solutions in an ever shifting technology landscape. Wasting millions of dollars on interactive whiteboards (which every teacher hates) is completely different to funding experimental programs to test ideas involving new technologies.

The OLPC concept started before smart phones, before raspberri pi, before a laptop was an accessible technology. Right now it looks antiquated but the idea was revolutionary.

Cuban would prefer that taxpayers, parents and politicians be assuaged.

I’d like to finish with a quote by Mitra himself, since he was the target of Cuban’s rant.

I said schools as we know them now, they’re obsolete. I’m not saying they’re broken. It’s quite fashionable to say that the education system’s broken. It’s not broken. It’s wonderfully constructed. It’s just that we don’t need it anymore. It’s outdated.

I think this is the most important rebuttal to Cuban’s thinking. Education and politics continues to drag its heels looking for “magic bullets” perhaps, but instituting no real change. While we defer to parents and politicians for fiscal accountability, kids sit in classrooms that they hate while being bombarded with an education they loathe.

I may not be as eloquent as Mr Cuban. However it’s easy to criticise without actually offering a productive way forward. I’m tired of deferring decision making to parents and politicians who have no clue about technology and no actual interest (beyond re-election promises) in fixing problems.

The longer we allow people to hold technology back, the worse the problem gets.

‘Bottom dollar’ thinking is stifling creativity and innovation. Politics and political point scoring are wasting money. Teaching mindsets are 19th century … and children are the ones suffering.


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