BY JACK BRADY
In the near future, today’s students are going to become tomorrow’s workforce, inhabiting an ever-mutating workplace where technology rules the day, stability is forgotten and adaptation is the key to success. Almost every aspect of the future workplace will revolve around some form of technology. From medicine to journalism, understanding how to utilize and operate these future devices is a skill students will need to harness. Not only will students need to be able to conquer technology, but also they are going to have to think, learn and act in ways our current curriculum has yet to contemplate in order to compete in globalized and competitive workplace. However, with archaic technology, a dwindling budget and stagnant approach to education, our schools’ preparation of students for the future world is in serious need of a reboot.
The current state of many of Broward County’s classroom technology is nothing short of neglectful. The current laptop model used in most Broward county schools, the Dell Latitude d510, is over 6 years old. That is utterly archaic in the computer world, in which models become obsolete in a matter of months. On a daily basis, students complain of the sporadic battery lives, rampant and uncontrollable computer shutdowns and ever-present computer slowdown that renders even the most mundane tasks excruciatingly difficult.
However, standard computers alone are little help for preparing students for the modern world. They are faced with the maddening variety of modern technology. From tablet-based gadgets such as the ever-present iPad to digital textbooks, these devices are an essential part of 21st century classroom learning. Both gadgets offer entirely unique and different ways of interacting with technology.
From simple, touch-based textbooks to interactive applications, these devices give students a hands-on approach to learning that no paper textbook can hope to match. In Florida’s Pinellas County, personal iPads were distributed throughout the district last spring. Almost immediately, many teachers and educators reported that their students were far more engaged and excited about learning then they were with standard textbooks and tools. Yet, hardware is just the beginning of truly integrating technology into education. Educators must harness the vast potential of social networking sites and cutting edge software to truly reap the benefits of a technologically integrated environment. Facebook and Twitter provide students with constant streams of information, allowing teachers to instantly update their classes on everything from assignments to extracurriculars.
However, we cannot simply expect every teacher, each specialized in their own particular field, to be able to educate students on how to utilize the technology provided to them. Students need to be given consistent access to computer literacy education. Examples include simple online courses, much like those provided as mandatory courses in many Florida state universities, which teach students how to properly manipulate and master their computers. If students do not become proficient in the use of the modern technology, the herculean effort and staggering amount of resources expended to provide them with such opportunities will have been utterly wasted, and in the volatile economic climate of today, waste is something we cannot afford.
Arming our educators with the technology they require is still only half the battle towards achieving a true 21st century education. Simply utilizing technology as a way to enhance a dated curriculum will serve no benefit to today’s students. Rather, the process of learning itself needs to be reexamined and redefined in order for technological integration to be a success. The High Tech High program, which began as a single public charter school in San Diego, has since evolved into massive ten campus program that trains and funds revolutionary education projects across the nation. The program boasts a 100% college admission rate, and has recently become a hallmark of innovative and high-tech education through its work in assisting other charter and public schools in renovating and modernizing their curriculums. Students are taught to utilize critical thinking and cooperative skills throughout their curriculum in order to take advantage of the technology provided to them, a revolutionary way of teaching and learning the program attributes to its success.
While the poor economic climate and famine of funds schools now suffer from have been drilled over and over into the minds of parents, students and educators, there are still ways for schools, with enough dedication and effort to fund the expensive changes and programs they are going to have to enact to succeed. As tax revenues and other funds dwindle, schools need to start looking towards available grants and foundations, an often untapped reserve of aid and finance. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is one of the nation’s leading nonprofit supporters of technological and educational innovation and has funded schools seeking to modernize themselves across America. Partners in Education can also serve a wellspring of funds for cash-strapped schools, providing resources and funds to schools in exchange for advertisement and sponsorship, a relationship that supports and revitalizes local businesses as much as it does education.
As a whole, from the classroom to the capitol, we must recognize the urgency of the situation and rectify it at any cost. In the meantime, at least students and teachers alike will certainly have something to tweet about.