Calgary School Board gets it right: Our kids need internet access in school

According to the CBC, the Calgary Board of Education is beefing up their wireless networks in order to allow students access to the Internet in school. After reading the comments, it seems I am one of the few who believe that this is a good thing.

I’ll go beyond that statement, actually, to say it makes me feel profoundly sad to read the comments and see so many people think of the Internet as something that is unimportant and a waste of time. That the immediate thought of most is that students will do nothing but abuse the access they are given. Yes, some will. Yes, this move will not be easy and yes, it will require that some things within the school and teaching change. It will be disruptive, but in my opinion, we have no choice and the longer we delay giving students this kind of access in schools, the bigger we fail them.

In 1953, Child psychologist Jean Piaget wrote, “The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.”  We have moved far beyond a world where teaching “the basics” is enough. To not bring this type of access to students in our schools does a grave disservice to our children and their ability to work and live in THEIR world, not our world.

How do we teach students to become critical thinkers in an information age when we shield them from information?

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that web is the greatest educational tool ever created, and to not figure out how to appropriately use it within education is amazingly short sighted. We need to help students figure out how to appropriately use this tool or else we risk abdicating it to the likes of Perez Hilton and mass infotainment. If educators do not stake a claim on the web, it will become exactly the devoid educational environment that those posting negative comments at the CBC site fear.

I am not naive to believe that this will be easy.  Teachers will have to develop new skills. New problems will arise that we need to find solutions for. New methods of teaching developed that exploit the affordances of technology. But as a parent, I will firmly support and actively advocate for the appropriate use of technology in the classroom for my children. And I will also actively support any initiative that helps teachers learn the skills to teach my kids how to appropriately use the web.

To the teachers who are pushing for access to technology in the classroom and running into barriers (and I work on the periphery of the K-12 education system and know many of you do run into resistance), keep up the fight. I am with you. And if you are a teacher who cannot understand or see the potentials of the web – who believes that the Internet is a useless time waster full of nothing but LOL and OMG, please consider retiring and opening up a space for teachers who want to teach my kids to live in THEIR world, not yours.

8 responses to “Calgary School Board gets it right: Our kids need internet access in school

  1. Great post. I felt the same sadness when I read the comments (I had to stop after just a few). Learning is a social experience. School is a social experience. Using social networks to learn makes so much sense. If one only uses the tools in a superficial manner, one will be left with a superficial experience. But, many of us use web 2.0 tools to learn, and we want the same for our children. The tools are what WE make of them – nothing more, nothing less.

  2. I'd urge you to read Tech Tonic: Towards a New Literacy of Technology from the Alliance for Childhood. There's little evidence that computers in the classroom boost student achievement. Worse yet, the committees that push this agenda so fiercely are mostly manned by representatives of big tech – a classic case of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.
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  3. By the way, I'm not some anti-tech nutbag; I've working on/with computers for the past 25+ years – back when there was no Information Technology department, just a couple of us nerds stuffed in a closet labeled "Data Processing." Some of the best, brightest, most-respected people I know in IT are those who have stellar problem-solving and creative thinking skills, yet may struggle with fairly basic features of common software and have no clue about Web 2.0 concepts. And these aren't all older people, mind you – my manager is 10 years my junior yet she's clueless about how to build a website, create rules in Outlook, rip a DVD to her iPhone, or any of a dozen other things I take for granted. But she has an innate ability to think critically, communication thoroughly, and manage massively-complicated projects.
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  4. One last comment – what I'm advocating is a focus on teaching children to be methodical, analytical, creative, team-oriented, and patient. Those skills, not an ability to Facebook or text message, that will equip kids for the future.

    I'm not saying that kids shouldn't have the opportunity to acquire computer-use skills in school, but we've got to move much more cautiously and mindfully towards that. Our current adoption of computers in education is reckless and shows little consideration for the long-term effects or specific goals.

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    • Hi Rob,

      Thanks for sending me the link to the Tech Tonic article. I am always interested in research around this topic. And I agree with you that we need to move mindfully towards the integration of technology in our classrooms, and I know many educators who are doing just this thing. It's not tech for tech sake, but tech for teaching and learning.

      You raise some great skills in your lsit and I agree with all of them. Of those, the team-oriented one popped out at me. More and more relationships in this day and age are technology mediated and our kids will need to be able to manouver and thrive in online social networks as a regular part of their everyday life. Isn't there a role for the education system to help kids understand this space and how to negotiate it? I think there is.

      I am digging into that article now. Thanks again for the link and your comments.

  5. Wow! I'm surprised that they don't have it yet.
    We've had internet access in the classroom for years now!
    It's important. Technology is part of our future.
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  6. Some people just cannot adapt to change. Just because they never used or needed the web when they were at school, does not mean that it is not right for the current generation.
    I wonder what their parents thought of TV?
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  7. Again, please bear in mind that my preceding comments are those not of a Luddite who opposes technological change, but come from a career IT guy. I do support giving kids insight into Internet use because it will be a requisite part of their loves. But before we plunge them headlong into the inescapable cyber-world, we have a responsibility to ensure that they first have all the skills necessary to survive & thrive in the real world. An ability to be self-sufficient, creative, and reasoning individuals will carry them much further in life than an intimate knowledge of word processing.

    And there's scarce evidence that computers in the classroom actually do anything to boost student achievement. Worse yet, the committees that push this agenda so fiercely are mostly manned by representatives of tech companies – a classic case of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

    So, again, I'm respectfully advocating that we move our kids gradually and intently towards computer literacy, not just assuming that jamming a mouse (or worse yet, a game controller) in their little hands will inherently make them savvy digital citizens.
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