What it is: America spends more per student than any other country in the world, yet gets far fewer results. The answer is never more technology. The answer is understanding how to apply technology intelligently, which means first overhauling the educational process itself.
A while back, Apple won a $30 million dollar contract to provide every student in the Los Angeles school district with an iPad by the year 2014. While this seemed great for Apple and students who can use a versatile tablet (which critics had dismissed back in 2010 as worthless), the big problem with providing iPads or any gadgets to students is that technology can only solve technological problems, but education involves more than technology. Not surprisingly, this Los Angeles iPad incentive later fell apart.
The United States already spends more money per student than any country in the world, yet American students tend to score much lower in math and science than other countries. How can America spend so much on education and get so little back in return?
The answer is never more spending. Between ineffective teachers (who can rarely be fired despite blatant incompetence), incompetent school administrators (who spend money on themselves rather than for its intended purpose), and unmotivated students, handing students an iPad can help some students, but won’t likely help everyone as much as schools seem to hope they will. After all, look how many decades schools have had Windows PCs in the classroom, yet American math and science test scores still remain low compared to the rest of the world.
Americans tend to think technology can be a “magic bullet” that can magically solve every problem if only enough money is spent on the technology. The real problem has nothing to do with technology but everything to do with the American school system itself.
In the classic book How Children Fail, author John Holt explains how children fail because of the way the American education system is set up to create anxiety in students and punish students for failing at every step of the way, completely ignoring the fact that failing is the way people learn any skill. Once you make failure something to be avoided, you also make learning something to be avoided because the less willing you are to learn, the less likely you’ll make a mistake.
Most likely the Los Angeles school district isn’t going to change the way they punish students for failure through poor grades and the emphasis that they need to get the right answer the first time, every time. Instead, the Los Angeles school district will simply continue creating a fearful atmosphere that avoids failure while handing kids an iPad, as if this will magically solve all the learning woes of the American educational system.
Despite the iPads versatility, don’t expect test scores in the Los Angeles school district to improve much, not because the iPad isn’t useful, but because the iPad alone can’t fix the problems inherent in the American educational system.
In many other countries, teachers are well trained and highly paid, which means teaching is a respected and attractive field. In America, teachers are poorly paid. Even worse is that education majors in college (the future teachers of America) tend to have the lowest SAT scores of all the college majors. When you have the lowest scoring students going into teaching, how can you possibly have a large number of high quality teachers?
Of course, low SAT scores doesn’t mean teachers can’t be dedicated and sincere. Yet the fact remains that education majors consistently have the lowest scores of most college majors. Paying teachers more is partially the answer, but will paying today’s teachers more improve education when so many of today’s teachers are unmotivated and incompetent in the first place? Pass out iPads to a class led by an incompetent teacher and you’re going to get poorly educated students whether they have an iPad or not. The iPad, just like putting a Windows PC in every classroom, is irrelevant.
If America really wants to improve their education system, they need to tackle the problem without relying on technology or additional funding. Only by solving education problems by improving the education system itself can any technology, such as the iPad, hope to make any difference for every student. Until then, more spending will just result in more expenses while the problem of poor education continues. Expect school administrators to continue scratching their head because they can’t figure out why giving kids an iPad doesn’t magically boost their math and science test scores dramatically, especially against kids in other countries who don’t have an iPad or even a PC in their classrooms.