Education without electronics, the unplugged classroom still works

Is there such a thing as too much technology in education?

Engineers are often the first to embrace new technology, much of which is developed in Silicon Valley. So why are parents there going out of their way to educate their children without it?

Schools across the nation are scrambling to update their programs with the latest technology. It has become a measure of adequacy and competitiveness. It is almost taken for granted that newer, brighter, bigger, better gadgets will improve learning.  So why are some of the most influential techies sending their kids to a school without computers?

At the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, in Silicon Valley, they provide a “renaissance education.” That means they embrace a teaching philosophy which values physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Education experts debate whether the effort to equip classrooms with computers is justified. There is no clear evidence that technology leads to better test scores or other measurable gains.

Students graduating from the Association of Waldorf Schools have an impressive track record of college success. Despite this, the choice to forego technological dependence is still mainly a personal choice. The success of graduates of this type of education has to be weighed against the upbringing most of the students receive. Their parents are often successful and focused on education, and this home support is valuable.  

Advocates for technology in schools say computers can hold students’ attention. They maintain that students who have been raised on electronic devices will not focus without them. The director of education technology for the National School Boards Association, Ann Flynn, says computers in schools are essential. “If schools have access to the tools and can afford them, but are not using the tools, they are cheating our children.”

There is a more fundamental debate about technology in the educational process. Just because we have the ability, should we use it? Many are concerned technology disconnects us from each other. Detractors will tell you that learning is about personal engagement, and technology can be a distraction.

Engineers have the basic challenge of determining the balance of technology and personal interaction. Of course, when it comes to professional design work, advances in technology have enabled exceptional improvements in efficiency, accuracy and capability. But how dependent are we on our software? On our devices? What is the compromise between powerful computing and personal conversation? At the Waldorf School, they don’t denounce technology, but they don’t use for its own sake either. Looking back on your education, do you remember great devices or great teachers?



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