A recent UN Education Agency commissioned report estimated that at least 250 million of the world’s primary school age children are unable to read, write or do basic mathematics at all. The same number of children are also struggling to improve to a functional level, and this is not a problem linked solely to developing countries.
In Australia, as in many other developed countries, we are facing the very real possibility that, in the near future, the generation approaching retirement will be more literate and numerate than the youngest adults.
Solving Australia’s challenges or the problem of global illiteracy and innumeracy is a huge task but it’s essential if we are to improve the health, wellbeing and life chances of the world’s children.
I would argue that there has never been a better time to be in education. The technology we have available to us now means that the difficulties of the past shouldn’t constrain our future or, more importantly, our children’s future.
I believe that this is achievable and that the answer lies in making learning both accessible and efficient. The opportunities that technology opens up in this regard are just astounding and, in terms of learning, it can be of tremendous assistance.
Mastering skills such as number recognition, automatic recall of times tables or being able to smoothly blend groups of letters to form words takes time. It is therefore vital that children are motivated and engaged sufficiently to persevere.
Technology is a tool to help learning not a replacement. A number of people are of the opinion that technology shouldn’t be used in education. I fundamentally disagree. Technology can be used to improve learning. It is ubiquitous to children’s lives these days and to take it away seems false. You would not go into a hospital and say “I don’t want modern treatment, please give me what worked in the 1940s or ’50s”!
Technology isn’t just an aide to the child it can give so much to the teacher, parent, education system. Technology can help reveal to us how children learn which, in turn, enables us to teach in better ways. We are able to identify the areas of the curriculum that children struggle to grasp.
For example if you go back five years and ask most maths teachers what basic skills children find difficult and they would have flagged division as one of the hardest.
In fact the data from millions of records, in scores of countries, suggests otherwise. Subtraction is the element that children find the most challenging. Once they have mastered that area then others fall more easily into place.
Technology cannot and does not replace the great teacher but it can bring in others into the equation who can be also hugely supportive and motivational to the child.
In my experience technology that opens the door to the child’s support group to take an active role in education will have the biggest impact on learning and help us radically improve life outcomes for millions of children.
Shane Hill is a former teacher and founder of both Skoolbo and Mathletics (3P Learning). Skoolbo is one of the fastest growing reading, maths and languages learning program in the world with offices in 10 countries. Shane, who is a recipient of the Global Corporate Social Responsibility Award for his services to education, lives in Canberra.
This article originally appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald.