I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine and we were discussing the future of education — particularly for elementary to high school students. He's convinced that the best education needs to become cheaper, more efficient, and more accessible. He's also convinced that tablets in the classroom are the vehicle to get us there. Do you want an iPad to be your child's teacher?
My friend has some valid points, and with tablets and the concept of learning online becoming more accepted it's a likely road we're heading down. I've always viewed online classes and digital lessons as tools for extended learning though. Tools for those of us that have already developed our roots, culture, and experiences in the classroom — a way for someone formally educated to take a specific course for learning a new and specialized skill set.
There's something about the idea of tablets teaching children in their formative years that is disturbing to me. Already I feel like we're becoming more disconnected with the world in front of us as we become more connected with the world beyond us. How often do you come across a table full of people, seated at a restaurant, engaged in their phones with little to no regard for those seated right next to them? I don't want to imagine a future where we have lobbies-full of children seated in front of tablets or computer screens learning from a teacher that may not even be in the same lecture hall, city, or even country. Could this method teach more kids with less resource? Sure. Could the course work be more engaging and customized to an individual child? Perhaps.
My argument is this though, I don't remember particular lessons from elementary, middle, or high school as much as I remember the relationships I developed. My most vivid memories are those of my favorite teachers, my best friends, conversations with classmates in the cafeteria, and bus rides or walks to the public school. I think it's easy for us to become so focused on "improving" things by streamlining them and making them more efficient that we lose sight of what really matters — developing our social skills and personality by engaging with others. Perhaps more important than English or Social Studies is learning how easy it is to hurt someone's feeling by saying the wrong thing, learning how great it feels to make someone smile, and finding your individuality through the social blender that is school.
Unfortunately, this nostalgia for the way I learned, the way we all learned, is already losing ground to the practicality of technologic convenience. I'm not sure how we avoid it as we grow in population as a country and schools focus on more cost-cutting measures. The "classroom" of the future could very well be a room in your house. The teacher of the future may just be a streaming video of someone you never physically meet.
Is this the future you want? Is this the future we have to accept?