My seven-year-old daughter wants a tablet. I don’t own a tablet—I have a lovely, but outdated netbook—but she wants one because her best friend has one (her best friend is six). And she likes to point out, often and quite vocally, that she is the only family member without tech. She feels…left behind.
And I completely understand her desire for “tech” because “tech” is everywhere. It’s in TV commercials where people using the newest tech item dance in the park, or people who have outdated technology (such as myself) are portrayed as living in ancient Egypt and relying on the sun to tell the time. Everyone I know is creating a new “app for that,” and I while I know that there is no denying that we, as a nation, are behind on providing technology to our students or treating technology as a partner in education, I wonder how we can create a balance between the “what we need” and the “what we want” when it comes to technology.
We are at times, however, playing catch up in a game that we don’t even understand, and because we are constantly one lap behind we are failing to make the needed and necessary changes in order to get ahead of rapidly changing technology. Take India, for example, where the creation of a $20—yes TWENTY dollar —tablet named Aakash 2 is transforming and shifting the very conversation about education and technology. While the government in India has embraced this future by supporting this business endeavor, the cellular phone bandwidth is, unfortunately, not as compliant. So while this technology can be in the hands of children, they might be in a “dead zone” and unable to use. But even that isn’t an obstacle to this opportunity; it’s a challenge, but one if triumphed over will be a game-changer.
In America it’s a completely different story. While we have broadband in most areas (although our rural areas are often lacking with connectivity support) and our education system supports some use of technology either in our schools or in a student’s at home learning time, we still don’t have technology that is affordable and thus accessible to all our citizens.
Here’s the thing: Aakash 2 could be the sole provider of this type of technology in the developing world because of how the Indian government is subsidizing production. The goal of creating this tablet was to empower and educate as a way to address poverty. And technology is everywhere, and as Francesca Kaplan Grossman points out in a recent article in Huffington Post, “the world is online.”
But while the world may be online, for example children play games on cell phones in Africa and learn about health issues while doing it, here in America there is a Luddite mentality that often resists this kind of transformative change. We want the tech, but we don’t what goes with the tech. Parents are often warned, endlessly, about the dangers of being online “too much,” of children who only talk or write “text-speak,” and of becoming too reliant on social networking sites for social and emotional well-being. But our kids already have the tech and the access to an ever-changing world where new gadgets and gizmos are produced and promoted at an alarming rate, where the newest and best is outdated the moment you have it in your hands.
And while we have the potential technology to change how we educate the next generation of learners, many of our educators are also worried that the Internet is harming our children because they aren’t becoming independent thinkers. But the truth is that there is a connectivity the Internet provides that can foster independent thinking, because respectful Internet usage can open doors that may be closed to many of our students, especially those who live on the edge of poverty and extracurricular educational opportunity.
India wants every citizen to have a tablet in order to create a more productive citizenry—one in which every educational opportunity is available to all, which can shift future economic outcomes. And the key to all of this is acknowledging that the job for my seven-year-old daughter may be created by her 14-year-old brother, that traditional role of “teacher” may need to shift to become “mentor” or “project manager,” and that a tablet in the hands of a child is her tabula rasa. She will create the future she wants and it will be inherently connected to technology because that is the foundation of her experience.
So the question isn’t whether I will get a tablet for her… the question is how many tablets will I have to get her until she can create her own.