While the technology exits to confront problems of access and scalability, teacher training hasn’t quite caught up, according to Jonathan Rochelle, director of product management at Google.
“It’s not a technology problem anymore. I think it’s more of an applicant of the technology and getting those great teachers to scale and making them not just ed tech evangelists, but figuring out how to let them prepare other teachers,” Rochelle told The PIE News.
After establishing its own suite of education products and services, including a series of free apps to improve literacy and parent involvement, Rochelle said, Google is now focusing on expanding equity through connectivity.
“We cannot go on spending and discussing technology without discussing the associated pedagogy”
“A lot of our really big inventions are related to trying to make it so the world can have access to the world’s information. That’s our mission,” he said. “Equity in education is one of our underlying goals and I think we’re going to actually try to express a lot more now that we have a stake in the ground on education products.”
Connectivity, however, remains an obstacle to the technology giant’s efforts to increase access. “I think that the hardest part is this barrier of connectivity that if you don’t have that you’re kind of lost especially for a company like Google. Bringing the global local might be one way to do that.”
Surprisingly, at an event focused on education technology, there was a general scepticism among presenters of using technology for technology’s sake over methods that achieve learning goals.
Jay Kimmelman, a co-founder of Bridge International Academies, the largest chain of private schools in Africa, said he has noticed a shift in education in developing communities from focusing on access to quality to learning outcomes.
“It’s not about how much tech is deployed or how many teachers are trained,” he said.
Miguel Brechner from Uruguay’s government-backed Centro Ceibal, an agency that implements programmes in public primary schools, recounted that in Latin America, schools have been connected to the electricity grid only to be connected to the internet.
“We cannot go on spending and discussing technology without discussing the associated pedagogy,” he charged, adding that “ed tech in Latin America is a political challenge more so than a technological one today.”
And while advancements in online education like MOOCs have brought life-long learning to degree-holding students, they haven’t solved the problem of reaching disadvantaged groups argued Mads Holmen, founder of Bibblio, a digital library that he says is like a “librarian in your pocket”.
“What ed tech has really done is made education and learning even better for the 10% who really don’t need it”
“What ed tech has really done is made education and learning even better for the 10% who really don’t need it,” he told The PIE News.
“We’ve solved some fairly easy problems but how do you transform the actual learning experience of the two billion underprivileged people who need it most?”
For learning environments to truly evolve, Holmen said public perception of online learning needs to change. “It’s weird to pitch technology as the solution when culture is what needs to change,” he said, forecasting a choppy period as the most countries transition into knowledge economies.
“We are going to see an ugly side to artificial intelligence and automation before we see the good sides,” he said. “But it’s often with new technology that it’s both the problem and the solution. I think it will ultimately be the solution that’s going to allow us to scale that upskilling that the world needs.”