Time to go back to school
It’s August, and for many children that means back-to-school time is already here or just around the corner. Kids all over are preparing for the year to come – and some are looking forward to it with excitement, some with anxiety.
I loved school, and felt a special excitement every year when selecting that very special pencil I’d use to write my name on that very special notebook. Today, my 11-year-old prepares for the year’s challenges in a radically different way: “Mom, I need a laptop!”
It’s 2012, and of course that’s how it is now. Today’s kids learn using laptops, and it’s mind-blowing to think about the resources that are available to them compared to what I had at school. Take Boundless, for example. It’s a company based in Boston, Massachusetts that’s reducing the need for costly textbooks by making an extensive library of openly licensed educational material available on the web. Project Gutenberg is a similar but nonprofit initiative that makes an even wider range of public-domain literature available online. And open online courses (also known as massive open online courses or MOOCs) hosted on platforms such as edX and Coursera are making it possible to prepare for and participate in classroom content from some of the best universities in the world.
What’s most exciting is that these resources are accessible to all students anywhere in the world. In particular, I’m thinking about the young students – especially girls – who are supported through Connect to Learn. Despite challenging living conditions, they can access the same sources of knowledge as their counterparts in more developed countries, thanks to their ability to access the internet.
Forward-thinking schools are preparing their students for the future in new ways too. For example, the Forsyth School District in the US state of Georgia recently introduced Bring-Your-Own-Technology Guidelines which lay out the parameters for how students can use their privately owned devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets in the classroom. The school district also leases and maintains its own dedicated wide area network.
Today learning is a much more personal and multisensory experience than it ever was when I went to school. For example, when Mars was on the curriculum for my natural sciences class, I opened up the encyclopedia to find a few fuzzy images of the red planet. Nowadays it’s possible to watch NASA’s live video feed of the construction, launch and landing of the Mars Curiosity rover – all in high-definition video.
Whether all these opportunities are good or bad for our children’s future remains to be seen. But I honestly believe that at least one thing is true: compared to the old notebook and pencil, a laptop can provide access to global knowledge that has a much greater potential to keep kids excited for the long term, not just for their first day back at school. I’m sure a virtual trip to Mars would help boost the excitement among students who find their first days back at school a little tough.