I recently attended the launch of a range of education products. On the surface, that doesn’t sound terribly IT-centric, until you realise that the products in question were IT solutions tailored to the education market. At the Cromer Public School in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Panasonic has installed a number of cutting edge educationally-focused solutions for digital whiteboards and videoconferencing, working with the teachers at the school to focus their use on educational outcomes. On the day of the launch, the students showed off 3D games that they’d written based on a book the class was studying, examined a rather frightening 3D model of the human brain and took part in what will be a regularly scheduled videoconference with the Kansai University Elementary School in Osaka, Japan.
I’m of an generation where computing was just starting to be considered as part of the primary curriculum, which meant that I sat through some very intermittent lessons on things like LOGO — getting a turtle to draw lines on a screen — and later, at a high school level, the very first rudimentary spreadsheet applications. Technology has moved on since then, and it shouldn’t surprise me that my daughter learns simple spreadsheet ideas at a primary level now.
The interesting thing about the implementation of IT at Cromer wasn’t that it was massively new — although it did seem to be fairly well implemented — but that it was as much focused on the kids learning new, non-IT matters as it was on the technology itself. Back when I was in school, if I wanted to learn about Osaka, I could perhaps look up a dusty copy of The World Book and see what was written about it five or more years prior. Now, the kids get face to face time with another culture in real time. Observationally, kids aren’t that different in other countries, although looking over the schedule for the videoconferences, I suspect there’ll be some rather large cultural differences come into play when the Japanese kids have their first videoconference.
There are challenges with the educational adoption of technology, not the least covering who will pay for it all. In Cromer’s case a significant quantity of the bill has been footed by Panasonic, and in return there are a number of signs on the school — most notably in the library — proclaiming this to be so. Still, given the scope for new education and the ability to genuinely engage with students who may find simply researching from a book to be too challenging, it’s an investment that could pay off handsomely in years to come.