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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 6, May/June 2004

The e-future of education in B.C.?

BC.’s minister of education was taken to task by a keynote speaker, Alan November, at the BCEd Online conference April 19 and 20, 2004.

BCEd Online is a consortium of school districts that hopes to produce content for online courses in B.C. schools.

Education Minister Tom Christensen opened the conference, saying that "online communities" is a priority of government and that the premier is "passionate about technology and about education." He said the government’s goal is to have "the most computer literate students in Canada."

Christensen told the 500 participants that government is acting to overcome the "digital divide." By the end of next year, all rural schools will have broadband access through PLNet, and government is working to expand the number of computers and make software more available.

The following speaker, Boston-based educator Alan November, complimented the minister for sticking around to listen—something that politicians seldom do. November pointed out that the minister had missed a key element if you want success in using technology: professional development. "Pedagogy is more important than technology," he said.

November quoted a recent study by the Benton Foundation that says that U.S. spending of $40 billion on technology in schools has had no positive impact on education. That is because technology is used to automate existing processes, rather than develop something new and different. Technology, said November, should be thought of as a way to develop new relationships and authentic audiences and empower students to be self-directed.

"One of the factors undermining effective use of technology is standardized testing," November said. Depending on standardized tests is "driving forward by looking in the rear-view mirror," he said to applause from the audience. The testing craze in the U.S. is "the fastest way to ruin lifelong learning." The people demanding the tests have "not thought out the inconsistency between testing and creative online learning."

The minister did take notes as November talked.

November also raised issues of social justice and responsibility. We don’t need to teach the kids how to use MSN or blogs. They have found that out for themselves. But these technologies amplify the power of the voice and have the potential to be hurtful and produce harm. We should be teaching students the ethics and responsibility that go with the power of a global voice.

The global economy has shocks in store for many, he told the conference. He claimed that there has been a significant reversal in the U.S., with higher unemployment rates for college graduates than for those with just high school diplomas. That is a result of using technology to outsource white-collar jobs to countries where pay rates are lower. He quoted a prediction that 14 million high-end jobs will move out of the U.S. over the next decade.

"Is it possible," November asked, "to build community with the Third World? If we don’t do something about equity on a global basis," he said, "we are all in for big trouble."

— Larry Kuehn

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