“The Next Story”

I have recently added “The Next Story” (by Tim Challies) to my reading list on recommendation of our director, Karl Steinkamp. This is the first book I have come across that tries to develop a Christian apologetic for the use of technology, and I think it is a must-read for anyone in Christian education.

In the first chapter he discusses the following points:

  • He says that there exists a “mandate for technology” that has its origins in the creation mandate, Genesis 1:28.
  • Technology is NOT amoral as technology advocates sometimes want us to believe. However, “technology is a good, God-given gift; like everything else in creation technology is subject to the curse; it is the application of technology that enables us to discern whether it is used for the glory of God or not.”
  • Technology can be both an idol or the enabler of idols.

I strongly encourage you to get a copy. We, Christian educators, need to have a well-developed apologetic about the place and use of technology in our lives if we want to model it effectively to your students and their parents. “The Next Story” can be powerfully used for professional development around this topic at your school.

To lifelong learning!

A well-trained teacher is the key to quality education #xned

I participated yesterday with two other staff members in the annual staff vs. students parliamentary debate. The debate topic was “This house believes the continuing introduction of new technologies and new media adds little to the quality of most education” (appeared in The Economist Debates of Monday October 15, http://www.economist.com/debate/overview/121). I think I was more stressed than the students about the speech … what follows is what I said as first speaker of the team that supported the topic. It was a really great exercise to reflect on the quality of education. Keep in mind I had 6 minutes, including taking points of information. Did I say I was nervous? 🙂

The topic for this debate is vague and ambiguous enough that it is important to clarify our (the team that supports the topic) interpretation of it.

In our opinion this statement implies that when new technologies and media are introduced to the education industry without a proper evaluation by trained educational professionals of the potential impact on the quality of education, it adds little to the quality of most education.

One of the acronyms for Information and Communication Technology is ICT, and someone has rightly commented recently that it also stands for “It Can’t Teach”.

The quality of education is not an easy concept to qualify. Many attempts have been made to identify the factors that indicate a quality education. In 2000 UNICEF outlined factors that are globally accepted as indicators of quality education (http://www.unicef.org/education/files/QualityEducation.PDF):

  • “Learners who are healthy, well-nourished and ready to participate and learn, and supported in learning by their families and communities;
  • Environments that are healthy, safe, protective and gender-sensitive, and provide adequate resources and facilities;
  • Content that is reflected in relevant curricula and materials for the acquisition of basic skills, especially in the areas of literacy, numeracy and skills for life, and knowledge in such areas as gender, health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS prevention and peace;
  • Processes through which trained teachers use child-centered teaching approaches in well-managed classrooms and schools and skillful assessment to facilitate learning and reduce disparities;
  • Outcomes that encompass knowledge, skills and attitudes, and are linked to national goals for education and positive participation in society.”

“According to the Education For All: Global Monitoring Report of 2005, two principles characterise most attempts to define quality in education: the first identifies learners’ cognitive development as the major explicit objective of all education systems. The second emphasises education’s role in promoting values and attitudes of responsible citizenship and in nurturing creative and emotional development.” (Sourced from http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20081128/education/what-is-quality-education.234848)

It should be obvious that just introducing new technology and media are not an assurance of quality because technology and media do not necessarily contribute to learners’ nourishment or make them ready to learn, the new technology and media may not be relevant to the context it is being introduced to, and due to a country’s political position on education, teachers may possibly be poorly trained and have no clear direction as to what needs to be taught.

The introduction of the iPad to Dalat International School also supports our interpretation of the topic. The administration of Dalat didn’t just decide the day before school this year that students need to show up with iPads for class. Months of planning and research went into this decision driven by people with current training and knowledge of sound pedagogy and the trends in the North American economical landscape. Teachers have received training and are still receiving training on how to use this new technology in a manner that will make substantial contributions to the quality of education at Dalat.

There are studies that show that introducing technology into the North American schooling system without proper training have resulted in no significant change in learning outcomes (http://www.economist.com/debate/overview/121). My colleague Mr. Steinkamp will expand on this idea and show that not only does the thoughtless introduction of new technologies and media contribute little to the quality of education, it may actually lead to a negative participation in society which is the direct opposite of what UNICEF says comprises a quality education.

In summary, the continuing introduction of new technologies and new media adds little to the quality of most education without the direct involvement of a trained teacher with a child-centered teaching approach.

Sources:

  1. Technology in Education Debate, http://www.economist.com/debate/overview/121
  2. Defining Quality in Education, http://www.unicef.org/education/files/QualityEducation.PDF
  3. Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2005, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001373/137334e.pdf
  4. What is quality education? http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20081128/education/what-is-quality-education.234848

To lifelong learning!

What is Christian education?

What is Christian education? What is it supposed to look like in today’s world?

Parts of an answer to these questions are starting to take shape in my head – having small children in the house makes it hard to do serious reflection since I am generally too tired to think straight … but here are some ideas.

Humility

What is Christian education for the 21st century supposed to look like? How is it going to prepare our younger generation to be like Joseph and Daniel, i.e. young people who choose to honor God no matter what the popular worldview or societal pressures may be?

I find it fascinating that Scripture tells us clearly that it is God who equips Joseph and Daniel for their jobs, and it is God who gives them favor with other people. This is a common theme throughout Scripture. God’s people accomplish great things because God goes ahead of them and He equips them. I think a Christian school needs to be a place where it is emphasized that God equips us with the knowledge, understanding, and skills we need to be successful in our academic and non-academic pursuits. This emphasis has to be intentional, and the school community needs to be reminded of it regularly.

It worries me that we sometimes over-emphasize achievement in our schools. Please understand me correctly: I think it is important to recognize achievement, but let’s recognize achievement for its encouragement value to the community instead of glorifying individuals. I think excellence is a God-given mandate since we are supposed to do everything for the glory of God. Let’s make more of an effort to thank God for enabling us to achieve.

Time

There is a danger of becoming so ‘busy’ with doing school that we don’t make time to thank God as a community for His blessing in both our successes and failures. Does your school have a praying culture? Are you sure? There has to be time in the schedule every day and every week to be still and give Him the glory He deserves.

Another danger of unwarranted ‘busyness’ is that we may be robbing our students and teachers of discipleship opportunities when programs are so busy that there is ‘no time’ for discipleship.

I am convinced that if we choose to have a God-centered approach to the amount of activities we allow in our schools, we will be amazed ‘how much’ we will be able to accomplish. Unfortunately answering the question “How much is too much” is complicated and hotly debated. May the Lord give us the grace to respond to His voice when we have this conversation.

Faith

I have been part of Christian schooling for more than a decade. As I reflect on what I have been privileged to see and experience, I think the biggest challenge for Christian education is to be truly God-centered as opposed to only making God ‘an important’ component of what we do. Let me explain.

By the grace of God, Christian schools are often able to provide students with a positive learning experience. The world recognizes that, and as a consequence the Christian school movement has experienced rapid growth internationally. There is a challenge that comes with this recognition and growth: how do we respond to the ‘demands’ that our constituents make on us? Are we going adopt an attitude of ‘pleasing’ our ‘paying customers’, possibly compromising our integrity, or are we willing to stand firm in our resolve to stay God-centered?

I think it is easier to answer “yes” to this question than actually follow-through on it. Why? Because it means we have to be willing to trust God to sustain us financially despite possibly having to make a decision that drive some of our ‘paying customers’ away. Are we willing to ‘pay this price’ in our effort to stay God-centered and trust the Lord to provide?

We have to keep in mind that the moment we start compromising, we remove God from the center of all we do and relegate Him to a certain part of our lives / school.

Disclaimer

My comments are in no way directed towards a specific school or individuals. If you are upset by what you read, I am really sorry. It definitely was not my intention. I am only trying to make sense of what a 21st century Christian school looks like. It has important implications for our pedagogy as well as our approach to the integration of technology.

I really need you (the reader) to participate in this conversation. Please add a Comment below.

To lifelong learning!

Stop #collaboration now – the importance of space

Yesterday our director and I had a conversation about promoting collaboration among staff members. As we were discussing what worked and what challenges we were facing, he pointed out something that I had heard before, but it never really resonated with me until now: to establish a culture of collaboration, the physical space at school needed to promote it otherwise we were going to fight an uphill battle.

It dawned on me how important architectural planning was to adopt a modern model of education that promoted communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. So what do you do when you strongly believe in 21st century education, but the physical layout of your school is counter-productive? Here are some suggestions:

  • Group subject areas’ classrooms together: if all of the science teachers are working in the same area or share the same workroom (even better), collaboration is more likely to happen.
  • Try to build a schedule so that a subject area’s teachers all have the same prep period or lunch block.

I really would like some input from you. Can you think of any more creative ideas to promote collaboration within the constraints of existing space?

To lifelong learning!

Do you have 21/21 vision? – Part 1 of 8

In their book The Leader’s Guide to 21st Century Education Kay and Greenhill say if we want our schools to prepare students for this century, we need to have a clearly defined, personal vision of “21st century students and the education they need to get there”. We cannot expect lasting, pedagogically-sound change to happen if we are not sure what we are working towards.

According to them, there are a number of factors (they describe eight) to take into consideration in this vision-casting process. Here are my comments on / summary of the first one.

  • What skills will people (like our students!) entering your country’s workforce need to be successful? You may have to do a little research by asking leaders from a number of different industries (that may employ your school’s graduates) what they view as the most valuable skill set for an employee to have. Beware of trying to define these skills based on your experience – I think educators sometimes have strong biases that are not necessarily a reflection of what is happening outside the realm of education. You may also want to ask these leaders what skills are new employees lacking – this may be painful because it will possibly show us in what areas are we failing to prepare our students for the work force.

To do: Unless we task ourselves to do the research above, it is almost guaranteed that we are not going to do anything about it. So please go to your favorite task manager and task yourself to do research about your country’s workforce.

Please share your thoughts as comments below. Remember, the 4 C’s: collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity.

To vision-filled, lifelong learning!