Paul Kim, the assistant dean for technology & CTO at Stanford University's School of Education, led the Nov. 3 Liberation Technology Seminar Series on “Global Inequalities, Achievement Gaps, and Mobile Innovations.” Kim has been reconceptualizing the whole education system, with a particular focus on the education of children in deprived areas.
Kim firmly believes that education, as is expressed in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, is a basic human right that should be available to all children, but the fact is that a large number of children are out of school, and many receive a poor quality of education. In this context, technology could enable the realization of the right to education.
Kim argues that donation of computers in a large scale was the main mode of introducing technology in education, but this model has its problems. Often computers are donated to schools but are not used either because people do not know how to use them or there is no access to electricity. Kim emphasized the importance of creating tools that are simple and likely to work in highly challenging conditions. With this in mind, he has started focusing on the use of mobile phones as a learning tool, given their low power consumption, low cost, ubiquitous availability and increasing capabilities.
He also pointed out that there have been many initiatives such as one laptop per child, where even the distribution of 110,000 in a place like Rwanda has not made a major contribution to educational achievements. He argued that such projects are detached from curriculum, and are focused on technology. In order to be successful, you have to understand the ecosystem, not just particular pieces of technology. You have to understand the value perceptions of everybody in the ecosystem: teachers, parents and students and make sure that all of the values are aligned. Otherwise the project will not succeed.
Kim further suggested that there is often a block at the teacher training stage and that there is a problem of pedagogy. Kim suggested that we should focus more on student centered exploration based learning because if you merely teach, the students switch off. However, if you engage with them, they will be more responsive. He suggested that instead of using words such as ‘teaching’ and ‘students’, we should use words such as ‘coaching’ and ‘agents’ and Kim’s own innovations follow are based on the philosophy of enabling student-led learning with the teachers playing a supportive role.
When using technical devices, Kim argued, it is incredibly important to empower the children themselves to learn how to use them rather than just telling them what to do. Students will express their creativity and extensive knowledge when they are given the opportunity to do so.