Parents know that when it comes to raising kids, the influx of technology has been a mixed blessing.
Cell phones help parents keep tabs on children and provide a layer of safety, but they also give kids nearly non-stop access to texting friends and an Internet filled with possibilities, good and bad. Diligent parents have tools for keeping children from the worst that our media age has to offer, but it takes vigilance and is hard, if not impossible, to shield them from all of our cultural rot.
Yet this week I was fully appreciating the incredible doors that technology can open for parents and kids, and optimistic that technology may be steadily solving one of the most intractable problems our country faces: our substandard education system.
I’m temporarily living in Brussels, where my young children attend a German-language school. We chose the German-language school so our kids would fully master a second language. I’m confident that the school will also provide them with a fine, basic education. But I also know that their curriculum will differ from that in U.S. public schools, and I worry a bit that my daughters, when re-enrolling in school in the U.S., might have gaps in their knowledge.
Even ten years ago, moms like me would have had a tough time tackling this problem. I’m sure the very ambitious mom could have collected reading materials and workbooks to try to piece together an at-home study regime. Today, however, I have one-stop-shop options for accessing curriculum.
I’ve started with history, purchasing a first-grade program from K12 (I’m sure there are many great options out there). The mix of multimedia and traditional hands-on classwork has been perfect for my six-year-old, and kept her four-year-old sister happily following along. We log onto an online program that gives me a script for introducing the lesson. I walk my daughters through some of the materials — an inflatable globe, laminated map, and work pages for the girls to color and complete — I ask them questions and show short informational videos featured as part of the course.
They don’t know that it’s schoolwork. They see it just as a fun project that we are doing together.
My situation may be rare, and I am fortune to be able to invest a little in purchasing such programs. Yet the impact of these technologies will go beyond individual parents and may finally encourage systematic change in our public schools.
Online learning opportunities mean that all students can have access to the best teachers and programs in the world. It means that rather than one-size-fits-all traditional classroom instruction, students should be able to access a wide variety of programs that employ teaching strategies tailored to kids’ different learning styles.
Some online programs are already being offered for free, and many other new, low-cost solutions will surely follow if we can finally change our education system to encourage true innovation. It won’t be enough to just get a computer into every classroom, as so many politicians promise. We need new models for schools so they make real use of these new opportunities. We need to free the billions that we are already spending on traditional public education so that parents can access programs that make sense for their children, and create a tremendous incentive for entrepreneurs to find new, efficient, engaging ways of helping kids learn.
We’ve seen how technology has changed the way that people work and communicate. We are just getting a glimpse of technology’s potential for improving education, and it’s a bright future indeed.