Over half of teachers believe that using technology in the classroom improves academic performance, but lack of funding is holding back progress, says Intel’s education leader Lila Ibrahim
One advantage is that the technology can be used to cater for a variety of different abilities within a class. “Often it is the case that a student may be faster or slower than their peers. Rather than lowering the way the teacher is teaching for the entire class, they can give additional homework or assignments, and personalise the teaching experience more.”
Ibrahim suggests that as well as enriching the students’ experience, there are also benefits for the teacher. “The teacher may be teaching a complex maths equation and asks the students ‘Do you understand?’ and of course, who’s going to say no? You send out a quick quiz, and the quiz comes back at the end of 10 minutes graded. You’re getting that real-time feedback, and the teacher gets to focus more on teaching rather than the administrative work.”
Hardware is just the first step
However, Ibrahim emphasises that getting the hardware into the classroom is only the first step, and must be backed up with resources and training. “We’ve developed the programme with the recognition that education is very local. It’s based on culture and curriculum and politics … We work with about 65 local PC companies, with the long-term vision of providing an education solution in the classroom where the teacher has the training, the students have access to technology, there is Internet connectivity, and the software is locally relevant,” she added.
The problem that the Intel Education Initiative and similar projects now face is mobilising governments to get behind technology in schools. However, Ibrahim is confident that change is happening. “The conversation has really shifted worldwide I think. Where in the past governments saw technology as a cost, in the past 18 months it’s really shifted to an investment. They want to make sure that their students are creating a more national competitiveness, and that they’re going to be able to attract the jobs that are going to help poorer countries. So I think a lot of the governments are being very proactive.”
Indeed, attempts to narrow the digital divide are underway worldwide. Earlier this month the UK government announced plans to provide 270,000 low-income families with free laptops and broadband access, as part of its £300 million Home Access scheme. “We want every family to become a broadband family, and we want every home linked to a school,” said Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a speech at the international education forum in Westminster. “It will mean all families can come together, learn together and reap rewards together.”
Work is also being done to bring Internet access to poor families in Africa and other developing countries. At the end of last year, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) announced a new device, known as the X0-3, which will be available in 2012 and will cost between €50 and €70.
Ibrahim applauds these efforts, but says there is still a lot more that needs to be done. “Not just providing a new computer, but the training and the content and making sure that there is the skills development. It needs to be taken beyond that initial phase,” she said.