We don't have a new syllabus, schools or books but you want to give us iPads?
Recently, I came across a piece of news about the Punjab government’s decision to replace traditional course books with iPads next year. Adopting advanced technology in education is a really good idea and it has already been successfully implemented by the United States, the United Kingdom, China, India, Australia and a host of other countries.
These nations have the potential advantages of reducing expenses on books, saving trees, student-centric learning, greater collaboration with other students and access to wider resources of education. However, there are a number of underlying issues -- some fairly obvious -- that rule out the idea of introducing e-learning in our government schools.
Technology awareness and limited expertise
Resourcing adequate expertise is a big challenge. Teachers need to be trained in using iPads effectively and have sound knowledge about all the teacher-student resources available.
Teachers, who are not tech-savvy, will find it difficult to switch to new technologies and in the absence of a standardised plan for creating, storing, researching, assessing, managing and using teaching materials, the real benefits of e-learning will not be utilised to the fullest.
Energy related problems
In an energy-crisis hit country, where load-shedding extends to as many as 20 hours a day, how would students charge their gadgets?
The average battery life of a tablet is 7.26 hours while the average normal school day is of eight hours, which means the iPads need to be charged during school hours and, in the frequently extended and irregular load-shedding hours, this may not be possible.
Most schools in rural areas of Pakistan lack buildings, electricity and other basic facilities. Would it be sane to think of providing additional power outlets and wifi facilities without having a building?
It would be like having lots of cars but no road to drive them on.
Those countries that have adopted this system of education are relying on high-speed, low cost 3G and 4G networks of communication, while the cost of accessing the internet in Pakistan is still on the high side.
How would the government address this issue?
The affordability factor
Would this system be an affordable one for the common man? One who sends his children to government schools rather than high profile private schools?
Wouldn’t it make it even more difficult for the common man to realise his dreams of a good education for his child? Affording the latest gadget for his children and getting it fixed, in case of any malfunction, would be a great challenge for a low income person, let alone those who have no income at all.
Such technology would do more harm to our literacy rate than good.
Finances and budgets
If the gadgets are to be provided by the government, how would it manage to allocate its limited educational funds to cover the hardware, software and license costs for educational content and applications? Moreover, the implementation costs for e-textbooks on tablets are much higher than printed textbooks.
How would the government ensure that all the schools have equal and timely access to this new system of learning and how would it bridge the gap between the technology-equipped schools and the non-technology-equipped schools in the mean time?
Home internet bandwidth would be needed for students to connect to the central library resources and with other fellow students, the absence of which would mean that students lacking this facility may not be able to complete their home assignments.
Designing the curriculum
Which syllabus will be chosen to be replaced by e-learning? The Urdu-medium syllabus, the English-medium syllabus or the Oxford syllabus?
Educational technology is a vehicle, not a solution. How the curriculum is designed is the key. Before moving on to any educational technology, it would be worthwhile to consider the uniformity of the syllabi.
The content matters more than the medium used to deliver it.
To conclude: expecting educational technology to bring a change to our literacy rates, without addressing these issues would be like expecting a toddler to run before he has learned to walk with firm feet.
Do you think the initiative can be a success without paying heed to the aforementioned issues?
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