While technology and its role in redefining education was a resounding theme at the fifth Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF), a keenly contested debate had the house voting for the motion that ‘education technology in the classroom is a waste of time and money’ (Seems a little bizarre … right? Now, hold up before you post an essay on why technology is the new superpower)!

Introducing the motion, Dino Varkey – Chief Executive Officer of GEMS Education observed that:

Global education technology spending will reach US$19 billion by 2019, according to Fortune magazine. At that cost, expectations of huge returns are increasing. He said: “While many sing praises of IT in classroom, recent evidence suggests tech’s impact in classrooms is limited and does little to bridge the gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged.”

Opening the debate for the motion, James Cantenera – CEO & Founder of TULA Philippines stated that:

Investing in technology in classrooms is not the imperative today with public funds in education being finite. While agreeing that technology is ‘great,’ he pointed out that “education technology will benefit people only when other essentials are in place,” and warned of the consequences of technology misuse in an impressionable young audience. Instead he mentioned that with the state of educational facilities being appalling, teachers earning low wages and advances in curricula being limited, the priorities today must be to bridge these gaps. “Education technology will have its benefits one day, but right now it is wasteful before the classrooms are ready.”

(Well, this isn’t too far from the truth? How many under 10s have we seen running around malls with Ipads and the latest gold iphone? So technology impact on children is already there, whether we approve of it or close our eyes and block our ears)

Countering the motion, Zaki Khoury – Regional Director of International Organisations at Microsoft UAE, said:

Education technology is “not about the digital divide but about digital dividend.” He argued that how students access ICT devices has evolved significantly in recent years and claimed the OECD report, which served as the foundation of the motion as dating to 2012 and therefore archaic. “It is fundamental that in today’s technology revolution, we really need to leverage the assets we have and also use the opportunities to the maximum. There is no stop for innovation and we need to adapt for innovation. With the changes around us, can you believe that we can come to a conclusion based on emotion that are using same tools built on methods of learning created hundred years ago? Instead of choosing between education and technology, we must focus on education and technology.”

(Yes, innovation is the next step forward … agreed! And yes, how many academic institutions used outdated learning methods … gosh, I’ve seen too many teachers read from powerpoint presentations in a monotone voice, after literally copy and pasting the material from a book)

In a flamboyant retort, Antony Jenkins – Board Member of Blockchain and former CEO of Barclays UK, drew on the ‘simple story’ of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ to support the motion and said:

Tech giants are missing the big picture of the everyday realities of the educational system.  “Billions are spent on electronic white boards, tablets and software; it just lines the pockets of tech companies,” he thundered. “All these deflect resources from things that really matter – investing in teachers, for one.”

The youngest participant, Munira Rajkotwalla – a student of GEMS Wellington Dubai, put up a defiant fight against the motion and highlighted her own experience with Blended Learning – a programme where only 50 students have been hand-picked to study online as against conventional education. She said that not just results but also the number of hours spent on studying endorsed the value of education technology, asserting that ‘technology offers flexibility’ for students.

While pre-debate the house had an overwhelming majority opposing the motion, final voting saw a swing, with the motion carried by the ‘fors’ underlining the majority’s views that we need to invest in fundamentals before education technology becomes the watchword.

What do you think? Who won the debate and which side of the swing are you on? I think the answer is pretty clear but would love to hear your thoughts too.

Until we rendezvous again,

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