Edtech – Not a part of the solution

It is no coincidence that the world’s most valued Edtech was birthed in India, in what may be the most supplemented school education system in the world. To be true, Asia is the humankind’s tuition and coaching hotspot, but the same is a different breed in (subcontinental) India. In the rest of Asia, supplementing is resorted to for the (prestigious) University entrance competition, but in India it is to revisit everyday classroom teaching, and in many instances, by the school teachers. Edtech largely thrived by supplementing the mainstream quality challenges, the most valued ones are mostly supplementing.

There is also a long history of Edtechs working with the mainstream, but the testimony of their impact lies in the growing educational crisis – it is now part of the quality challenges in the K-12 system, across the world. No less, even the most celebrated Edtechs, such as Udemy and Coursera, are still posting losses. Last, but not the least, it must not surprise policy makers and parents that China banned Edtech in supplementing mode – it was only exacerbating the educational pitfalls.    

Specifically, this blog is about the very nature of education and learning, briefly exploring if the two are amenable to ‘technology’ in any materially significant ways. First and foremost, let us secure a common ground on what is technology about. Technology is the application of the sciences (the definitive laws discovered by us about how the nature/universe works) by us, but we know little about biology in general, and how we learn or how our brain really works, in particular.

The science of life, and learning is fairly limited for us to be able develop ‘technologies’ around it (technology is 100% mathematised scientific laws in applications, oversimply stated ‘automating certain set of actions’.) It is naive to think of building technology for better, let alone immersive, learning. This is particularly important to realise in the face of the fact that the new curricular goal is uniquely singular – expanding and refining thinking skills and routines of every child, something that has little overlap with teachers or teaching.

By implication, if there is any ‘technology’ to be built about education and learning, it is what I call as ‘Technology OF education,’ specifically contrasting it with ‘Technology IN education’ (this is what the Edtech industry is focused upon.) In the former, the focus is on education, on ‘deciphering the science of organising teaching and learning at a mass scale’ and then harnessing appropriate kind and level of technology; the ‘hi-techness’ of technology is no consideration. It is best lead by educators who are competent technologists too.

In the later, it is the state-of-art technology that is the focus, how it secures the goals of learning is hardly even understood; it is led by technologists with supplementary education experience at best. Exploiting education as a domain for selling technology is indeed a wrong committed on children and society; Edtech is not promoting learning gains, and in many ways complicating educational achievements.

Fundamentally, education is almost entirely social, immersed in family (everyone is born in a family), community, and society (its culture, economics, and ‘everyday technologies’.) In fact, education is the name given to the 2-decade-long ‘all that happens in raising of an infant to a cultured adult,’ education is what makes us all truly human. The role the formal (education) institutions in ‘this education’ is purely due to the intensification of science (and technology), better understanding of nature and fuelling creativity. It is not a coincidence that the foundation of the formal was laid in the nineteenth century, it has been called the age of science for the incredible hope it had kindled in the possibilities of technologies. Science had to be part of the education of every child and the earliest schools were exclusively academic in nature. Now, we are living the most sci-tech of times that is affecting all the dimensions of life and living, academic excellence is a big part of educating children.

Interestingly, and importantly, a quick peek into academic learning is due here to dispel the association of academics and technology. Science cannot be taught, it is rooted in observing and experiencing nature; we cannot simulate the undiscovered nature and discovered natured is best studied as the ‘logicalised expression of consistent observations and experiences’. Basically, there is little technology needed in learning K-12 science.

Mathematics is best studied as the language of science (laws that capture order, definitiveness of nature can only be expressed mathematically); in fact, K-12 mathematics can only be mastered through ‘word problems’, i.e., in the ‘real world’. All natural languages are founded and finetuned in community (and competent reading and writing that is at best average in the formal system.) Art, dance, music, play, sports, theatre, etc. are obviously physical. Social sciences are just too real.

Edtech, or Tech-Enabled Immersive Learning, is one of the most touted changes in the 200-year old K-12 system (the current form of the global school education). It is the response of technologists, technology industry, governments, and society at large towards contemporising what may be the only social institution that still operates almost exactly the way it was founded (this is a long story, for another few posts). For comparison, million-year old institutions such as marriage and family have dramatically transformed, globally, in just a couple of decades even in the most entrenched societies.

Education system has been defying gravity, has mostly failed all initiatives and intents to overhaul it. Thus, how do we know if the ‘modernisation’ of K-12 through Edtech is truly and rightly changing it? Long story short, here are the five key educational challenges of our times. First, assuring ‘same-quality’ academic outcomes of K-12 for first-generation learners and the privileged learners to ensure every one becomes a (net) producer; ‘Industry 4.0’ is the best news for humankind, for equally enabling all. Second, ensuring no child left behind in mathematics, the language of life and business hereafter. Third, cultivating literary reading habits in one and all, the critical importance of highest reading ability cannot be overemphasised for thinking skills. Fourth, mass-scale adult ‘re-education,’ including teacher re-education and instilling academic leadership in schools (recall that learning cannot be taught, it is a by-product of children’s environment.) Fifth, ‘whole-child’ development that requires inversion of current school system (focused on academics that eat up over 6 of the 8 daily periods) – reaching two-third of timetable commitment and resources deployment, on co-curricular learning.

Self-evaluate how any of the Edtechs are actualising any of the above, making learning any immersive to solve the aforementioned challenges.

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