Teachers and books for the rich, robots and screens for the poor?

Teachers and books for the rich, robots and screens for the poor?

Mercedes Mateo 20 julio 2018 Comments

When we talk about technology for education we think of tablets, laptops, robots or interactive platforms with which children learn new (coding) or traditional skills (mathematics) better or faster. Raised like this, it seems inevitable to imagine that students or higher income schools have the most access to this type of resources. But, what would happen if access to technology in the coming years is not a privilege, but the cheapest way to access educational services?

Thus began an article recently published in The New York Times: “Hypocrisy thrives at the Waldorf School of the Peninsula in the heart of Silicon Valley. This is where Google executives send their children to learn how to knit, write with chalk on blackboards, practice new words by playing catch with a beanbag and fractions by cutting up quesadillas and apples. There are no screens — not a single piece of interactive, multimedia, educational content. The kids don’t even take standardized tests(…)”.

Surprising, isn’t it? Latin America and the Caribbean is investing more and more in technological equipment and digital resources to close the skills gap in the labor market and the learning gap between high and low income students. By contrasting these efforts with the New York Times description of how the most privileged learn, it is worth wondering whether technology, after all, could potentially increase inequality in skills and learning.

The lessons that matter the most

One of the core objectives of education systems is to promote learning that prepares children and youth not only for the labor market, but also to contribute to create more prosperous societies.

It is known that to access good jobs, a combination of technical skills and soft skills is required. This in itself is nothing new. What actually is changing is the relative distribution of both. Although cognitive skills are still strongly related to results in the labor market (in terms of participation and income), their importance has been falling in the last two decades, while returns to soft skills have been increasing. This trend is not accidental: to survive in the world of automation, it is a priority to teach young people what machines cannot do, because jobs that require imagination, creativity and strategy are more difficult to computerize.

An interesting fact comes from a study conducted by Google in 2013 to understand if their recruitment strategy focused on “hard skills” in computer science was appropriate. The results showed an uncomfortable reality: seven of the eight most important qualities shared by the highest-performing employees were soft skills such as being a good coach, communicating and listening well, knowing their colleagues well, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, and connecting complex ideas. The technical competences in STEM fields came in last.

Learning while knitting: something more than a trend

Faced with this boom of soft skills, learning to knit, write with chalk or practice new words while playing with balls are activities that go beyond a Silicon Valley fashion. This type of education becomes a strategy to innovate, as the article in the New York Times said: “While Silicon Valley’s raison d’être is to create platforms, applications and algorithms to generate maximum efficiency in life and work (a “frictionless” world, as Bill Gates once put it), when it comes to their own families (and also developing their own businesses), the new masters of the universe have a different sense of what it takes to learn and to innovate: it is a slow and indirect process, it is necessary to meander, not run, allow failure and chance, even boredom.”

To close the skills gap in the region, we cannot forget the fundamentals behind this approach, but without losing sight of the fact that technological change comes at a galloping pace and offers new possibilities for children and young people. Stay connected and read the next article: Knitting or surfing? The Potential dangers of technology for learning

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