The Answer for Schools Is Not More Technology. It’s Teachers and Human Connection.

Dec 24, 2019

This op-ed is part of a series of reflections on the past decade in education technology. Danielle Arnold-Schwartz is a teacher of elementary gifted students with experience teaching grades K-9 in public school settings.

A kindergarten teacher recently told me that at conference night one of her student’s parents verbally attacked her for using Chromebooks during morning meeting time. This teacher uses Chromebooks responsibly and is a wonderful teacher, but deep down I couldn’t help but cheer as I wondered, “Could it be that parents are waking up to the realization that too much screen time is part of what ails our education system?”

The secret is out: technology alone stinks as a learning model

We sit in front of screens to do work, listen to music, play games and escape from life’s stress. We put children in front of screens at restaurants to keep them quiet, and we do the same in classrooms that may be too large or when teachers are working with small groups. Screens entertain us, help us relax and help us answer the questions we ponder as fast as we can ask them. However, the secret is out: technology alone stinks as a learning model. Education technology is in its infancy, and the appeal to entrepreneurs seems understandably insatiable. The disconnect between business and education is that entrepreneurs focus on profits, while educators focus on children and learning.

A business-minded person may think a large class with 50 students, one adult and 50 screens makes fiscal sense, and is therefore an “innovative” idea. Rocketship charter school chain relies on this type of model: “Students rotating into Learning Labs [means] employing fewer teachers,” author Richard Whitmire has written of the schools. “A school such as Rocketship Mosaic could successfully serve 630 students with only 6 teachers plus aides.”

A business person may also think that because focus groups of children demonstrate that kids like and enjoy a tech product, that it is educationally sound. Some of them think that teachers want to make their jobs easier by putting little screens in front of little eyes, but I don’t know a single person who became a teacher because they wanted an easy job.

I don’t know a single person who became a teacher because they wanted an easy job

As the year comes to a close, I urge edtech entrepreneurs to change the lens with which they view their product development. Education shouldn’t be viewed as simply a “market,” and children are certainly not “widgets.”

Education is of dire importance for a strong democracy, and we must view product development for education as an ethical obligation. Technology can and should be used with fidelity in schools, but we must balance technology use with developmental psychology, the psychology of addiction and educational psychology. We need educational technology that puts highly trained teachers at the center of product design and implementation. It is human interaction that truly engages children and inspires them. In the same way that we want our doctors and lawyers to take time to help us, children need real teachers to connect with and trust. It is only then that technology can rise to its proper place in the classroom.

Forget the efforts to appeal to fiscal reforms, my edtech friends. The time has come to open the market to “Teachnology,” and to put the teachers at the helm of their classrooms as they guide our children to exciting and unknown horizons.


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