In my January 8, 2013 post, "Can IT Be the Core of Higher Ed?" I outlined what the benefits would be for higher education if technology and technological literacy were to become the central organizing element of a college education. The same benefits and more would also translate to K-12 education if technology were to be a central focus rather than an occasional, peripheral add-on. But what would it really take to make IT the core of education at all levels? Dramatic policy changes at the federal, state, and local levels, as Katrina Schwartz proposed for Mind/Shift in December of 2012 are needed to make this possibility a reality. What Schwartz neglected to do was to propose real concrete solutions that would bring about this fundamental change in the "what" and "how" of education. There is a real need for education reform and the following policies might go a long way towards ushering in that change.
Policy #1: Maximum School Funding
This is the lynch pin of educational policy changes that will need to happen if technology is to become a central focus of our education systems. There is no denying that technology is not cheap. The initial investment in hardware, software licenses, as well as the ongoing costs of Internet access, maintenance, and equipment replacement all add up to huge sums of money, particularly if you consider that the ideal model should provide 1 to 1 computer or device access for every student.
Educational funding, particularly as it relates to infrastructure, teacher training, and actual devices and software, needs to cease being a barrier to allowing students to access the most up-to-date, powerful, real world tools available. If we want high school or college seniors to graduate with marketable hi-tech skills, we need to provide them with the means to develop those skills while they are still in school. The only way to do that is to pay for them. Educational funding needs to be increased for all of K-12 and higher education to a point where institutions can afford the tools and training necessary to implement the highest possible level of technology integration.
Policy #2: Teacher Lifetime Technology Learning
Educators need their autonomy and freedom to be innovative in their practice. In no way should a refocusing of curricula on technology dissuade them from their normal goals. However, educators at all levels need to be trained in the most innovative uses of technology and provided with opportunities and support for engaging in a lifelong program of learning about new technology and incorporating it into their teaching and sharing their knowledge with their peers.
This policy would rely heavily on Policy #1 for funding. For starters some of the teaching burden would need to be lifted from educators. Existing teachers would need release time for ongoing professional development and curricular reinvention to incorporate technology. Implementing a sabbatical system for K-12 educators like the one already in place in higher education, but specifically focused on technology and innovation training, would allow educators to continually keep up with the latest technologies and give them the time to implement them in the classroom.
Policy #3: Parental, Community, and Political Accountability
There is a fundamental flaw with the concept of "teacher accountability" when there is no equivalent emphasis on parental, community, or political responsibility for how education performs. This is beyond hypocritical and irresponsible. You would not call a car dealership to complain that the car you bought no longer works if you never changed the oil and didn't fill it with gasoline. We refuse to keep education funded and neglect the general upkeep, but we still expect educators to excel and help students emerge with the latest employable skills.
Politicians and the members of the communities that elect them are responsible for the rundown state of our educational system and the overburdening of educators. Policies need to be put in place that make politicians accountable for educational funding – if they claim that it is a priority, as President Obama does in the video below, they need to fund it accordingly. Communities, including parents, also need to be held accountable both for the politicians they elect and for the learning that happens outside of classrooms. In particular, there needs to be a minimum home technology level in place that assures that all students will come to school prepared to use the latest technology and that they can seamlessly take their work home and complete it. Which leads to the final policy proposal.
Policy #4 Ubiquitous Technology Funding and Support
If we truly believe that technology is important in our society and for future employment, and that students should be learning how to use it, we need to provide them with excellent access to the devices we are expecting them to master. Technology access for all needs to become a policy supported right rather than an individual responsibility. While many in this society can afford excellent devices and the high speed Internet connectivity they require to work, others simply cannot and need to be supported in their efforts to acquire and learn the most important tools for individual and societal productivity since the invention of the wheel.
Make it Happen
Saying that we need policy changes to support a move to a technology-centered education system is one thing. Taking action to make it happen is another. In my March 13, 2012 post "Organize Your Community for Educational Change," I outlined an action plan for implementing educational reform at the local level with the hope of ultimately spreading those changes more broadly. One of the points of that article was that these changes need to start small. We know our local politicians, members of the school board, and others in positions of influence and can talk to them to start bringing about these changes. Additionally, it is important that we make educators part of this conversation. No one knows better than they do what changes are needed in education and what policies would best support them.
Image courtesy of arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net