Hooray for hi-tech in our schools

By Robert Leach, February 21, 2014

I remember struggling for hours with a BBC microcomputer 30 years ago to get a block glyph to turn 90 degrees left — as I recall I was pretty unsuccessful. That was a classic case of paying lip-service to using technology in classrooms. It was pointless and frustrating and no help to me in my life subsequently (Tetris and Nokia Snake aside).

However, I truly believe that the times have changed. Technology has actually transformed the landscape of education for the better.

Modern classrooms are now fully internet-connected and large interactive whiteboards adorn the front wall of every one of them. YouTube videos are used to demonstrate complex scientific ideas or showcase an array of images to help stimulate or trigger creativity in writing or expression in art.

Shiny new iPads and Microsoft Surfaces replace tired, old dog-eared textbooks covered with graffiti — the scrawlings of generations of former pupils whiling away their time in lessons. Pupils can now research, access and record a range of topics with constantly updated facts or opinions. The technology available is extremely versatile and is limited only by the teachers’ creativity or imagination.

I must admit that not all parents are convinced about the use of technology as they see their children glued to computer screens at home.

I often hear, quite rightly, questions such as “what about my child’s handwriting? Can my child add and subtract without using an app?”

Parents envisage their children playing Candy Crush instead of learning to set out long multiplication sums correctly. But this does not have to be the case.

At Sinai School, we use technology to enhance learning, not replace it. Children today are excited about technology and experience it as a natural, intuitive tool in their everyday lives. There is an almost automatic engagement in learning when technology is used to enhance the lessons. No longer are children scribbling down their ideas down on a yellow Post-It notes and sticking it up on the blackboard. With the use of their iPads, ideas are typed and immediately displayed on the interactive whiteboard at the front of the class in clear bold typeface, alongside their classmates’ notes, to be discussed and critiqued by their teacher.

Once teachers would dress up in a Guy Fawkes costume and act out the dramatic events of November the Fifth with a ruler and piece of chalk as props. Today historical events are realistically brought to life with the use of green-screen technology (used in Hollywood). Teacher and pupils are transported back in time and can find themselves “virtually” standing outside the Tower of London in 1605. The effect on the pupils can be extremely powerful when used correctly.

Sinai School was one of the first schools to adopt the use of iPads in 2012, when 93 were purchased and distributed across the school for use in the classrooms. Children no longer had to march off to the ICT suite for their weekly hour’s fix, but instead use iPads in most lessons.

Jewish studies now also benefit from technology. Our older students can search through the entire Tanach in seconds, searching for and comparing examples of Hebrew phrases and instantly translating or reading what Rashi comments on that verse. There are also apps specially designed for children to teach them the laws of kashrut or Shabbat in a fun, vibrant and interactive way.

The demands and expectations placed on young children’s understanding and skills in technology is now being raised by the government, which has recently announced a new national curriculum which must be delivered from September 2014. ICT is now to be renamed “computing”. Children as young as six will be expected “to understand what algorithms are; how they are implemented as programs on digital devices; and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions.”

Ironically, this less than precise and ambiguous instruction conjures up in my mind the image of battling with that dreadful BBC microcomputer. But I am confident that, with the wealth of usable and child-friendly technology available today, our pupils will not suffer the same negative experience or frustrations that I suffered.

Technology can never replace high quality teaching, but it can certainly enhance it.

Robert Leach is head teacher at Sinai School , Kenton

Last updated: 1:50pm, February 21 2014