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Opinion: Students' future isn’t our past

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The education that so many of us received created the hard-working individuals we are today. Our instruction was filled with rote-memorization, lots of facts and repetitive assessments.

Those who were good with that type of education succeed. Those who weren’t, struggled, made it through to graduation and found a job that suited their talents. This type of education worked well for jobs with specific skillsets, expectations and responsibilities. However, many jobs today, have emerged to require a more fluid skillset that includes future-ready skills.

As schools tackle equitable access to technology for learning and future-ready skills for their students, one-to-one education provides a valuable tool. It is easy to view a laptop in every student’s hand as replacing the teacher. However, when done right, the laptop can be a great tool to prepare our students for their future, not replacing the teacher, but enhancing the educational experience.

This future holds jobs we have today as well as jobs that haven’t yet been imagined. We know these jobs contain essential, future-ready skills that all employers look for: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving. Technology is the right tool to learn from and enhance those skills in students.

When students enter the workforce today, they already need to be equipped with those vital skills.

Success in any job today requires employees to acquire knowledge quickly and think independently so they can do the job without being micromanaged. They need to be effective communicators in both verbal and written correspondence. They also need to make decisions in the best interest of their companies and figure things out when they don’t know what to do.

In education, we not only want to keep the focus on foundational skills – reading, writing and arithmetic – that are important for a good knowledge base, but also introduce students to the world they live in. This world doesn’t always want the answer to a multiplication problem or a PowerPoint presentation. This world wants someone to find the answer to a problem or task and convey information using the most effective medium.

Computers entered the K-12 education realm over 25 years ago. Since then, we have focused on the productivity side of what they can do. We have held on to Microsoft Office and its abilities and used the Internet to find information.

Now, teachers are using them for productivity, just as we did before, but not limiting their use to a Word document or PowerPoint presentation. We are using them to communicate, using word-processing, email, blogs, websites, etc. We also are collaborating with others to problem solve and share our learning. (We just had students who Skyped with people all over the world to learn about music in other countries). We are sharing knowledge and asking questions that can’t always be found on Google but can be supported by the knowledge we can find.

Technology can help us simplify the small tasks so that we can get to the bigger ones. I remember a discussion that took place when calculators were first allowed in school: “Don’t let them use them on tests or homework – it is cheating. How will we know if they can do the problem or not?” If they get the right answer using the calculator, shouldn’t they know how to do the problem? We don’t shun calculators in our jobs today just to prove we can know how to do the problem. The problem is the simple task, aided by technology. The outcome is the real end goal.

We live in a world full of technology. We have learned to adapt to it; students of today don’t know of a world without it. With education embracing technology as a tool, combined with support for communication, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, we are preparing students for their future, not our past. Education and business truly are benefiting from technology.

Josh Chastain, Ed.D., is executive director of digital learning for Nixa Public Schools. He can be reached at joshchastain@nixaschools.net.

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