Children often not getting full use out of classroom tech, experts say

Despite the introduction of tablets and other technology, schools in the UAE can do more to integrate it into how pupils are taught.

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DUBAI // The benefit of technology in classrooms is being limited by costs and teachers with little training who struggle to develop a new learning system, education professionals say.

They say that as a result, the computers and tablets introduced to classes are not being properly integrated into learning.

“Real technology needs tablets in students’ hands with opportunities for research,” said Judith Finnemore, of Focal Point Management Consultancy.

“This is still a long way off because of cost, concerns about what might be accessed, school’s fears about their liabilities and the inability of teachers to develop strategies that will maximise its use.

“Clearly it isn’t working because the latest Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development results show students here are rote learners and, faced with a need to fathom something out, they strike trouble.

“The web might be a way to solve this issue.”

Ms Finnemore said teachers would have to adapt to a new role as pupils were encouraged to find much of their information for themselves online.

“Teachers will become advisers in the learning process,” she said. “They will no longer be the sole purveyor of information.

“I hope, as the next IT-savvy generation of teachers hits schools, there will be opportunities for more individual learning, with teachers communicating wherever and whenever with students who need direction or advice.

“I really hope the days of learning and regurgitating textbooks dies out quickly.”

Schools should look at countries such as Singapore, where there is complete integration of technology, making home and school part of a complete learning classroom, Ms Finnemore said.

“The UAE should also be looking at the changes that have take place in the computing curriculum in the UK, where young students learn to code and design apps before they leave primary school.

“Here, some IT classes are still having theory lessons on the mouse.”

Effective use of technology could include could teachers sending links to pupils or folders of information ahead of lessons, she said.

“This would prepare them in advance, create independence and make students responsible for at least part of their learning,” said Ms Finnemore.

Darren Frearson, head of technology integration at Uptown School in Mirdif, Dubai, said technology should be tailored to what children would be required to learn.

“Keeping learning at the centre of any classroom technology decision is of prime importance,” Mr Frearson said.

“From this critical starting point, teams collaborate on how current or new digital ideas can be incorporated alongside more traditional approaches, to enhance the units or lessons.

“So many IT initiatives have failed in the past due to the lack of understanding by the teachers or facilitators.”

A lack of specific training in new technology in the region is also a major challenge.

“This is compounded on occasion by the challenges of a teachers with a full-time schedule and a lack of time to practise and plan the integration of new technologies,” said Fioina Cottam, principal of Hartland International School, in Nad Al Sheba, Dubai.

“One of the easiest mistakes to make is to forget the basic practical planning in terms of ease of accessing the technology for all, whether students, staff or parents.”

School leaders should make sure that good technical support is in place so teachers can focus on teaching, he said.

Hartland has teachers who integrate computer coding throughout other areas of the curriculum. Information technology is used to create programs, systems and a range of content across the curriculum.

“We are therefore attempting to future-proof our classrooms at Hartland by promoting and improving teaching practices, supported by education-specific software and hardware, coupled with a focused, continuous professional development training plan for its use.”