ETNI is an English Teachers Network in Israel where teachers share ideas and discuss relevant and burning issues regarding the teaching of English. Teachers both from Israel and from around the world are invited to take part. The ETNI website is at: http://www.etni.org
by Andrew Wilson
I started teaching over twenty years ago, and since then, both as a teacher and a parent, I have seen many projects come and go. I'm sure I'm not alone in this ;)
Some projects were baked to perfection, some were so burnt that they were indigestible, while others, sadly, were quite half-baked. I have no doubt that they were all proposed and implemented with the best of intentions, and I mean this most sincerely.
I recently read an article (I'll include the link below) by Judy Siegel-Itzkovich in the JP about proposed plans for 'school computerization'. Meir Shitrit, Knesset Science and Technology Committee chairman, is quoted as saying "Parents spend hundreds of shekels annually per pupil on buying schoolbooks, when an inexpensive laptop can be bought and used to download all the books from the Internet." The article then goes on to say that there will be an investment of a billion shekels to buy a new computer for each pupil.
Later on, Gila Ben Har predicted that "parents will pay half the cost of a digital book and will be able to purchase a laptop in easy installments for their children" - which slightly contradicts what MK Shitrit said, but never mind. First of all, if parents are expected to pay for the laptops in easy installments, I can already see the difficulties. At our school, there are many families who cannot afford to pay the regular school fees, never mind intsallments for laptops. Secondly, whether these laptops are supplied by the Ministry of Education or bought by parents, the problems are numerous. Our school buys books and lends them to students. No matter how hard we try to keep those books in good shape, there are always books which arrive back at the library in a very sorry state. There also those that disappear into thin air, and I understand that it is difficult to get parents to pay for their replacement. What will happen when a student breaks, drops or loses his laptop? Will the ministry repair or replace it? If not, I can't see parents doing this. Thirdly, let's assume students come with their laptops. I'm no computer expert, but if hundreds of students use the Internet at the same time, is is possible that this would put a strain on the infrastructure at some point along the line? Our school has one technician - I'm sure he'd be driven crazy in a very short space of time by requests from teachers and students to fix various problems. Finally, I have worked with students using the Internet in our computer room on several occasions and every time I have caught some 'poor lost soul' who found his or her way into Facebook (or worse!) during the lesson. Imagine being in a class with forty students with their noses deep in their laptops. How much work do you think would really be done?
I also wonder how Ms Ben Har arrived at the conclusion that parents will pay half the cost of a digital book. Assuming that she means that digital books will cost half the price of a regular book (the phrasing is ambiguous in the article), I can't help comparing this to Kindle prices which are not so very much cheaper than regular books. The article informs us that the ministry "will soon issue a directive to all curriculum developers that their work must be produced as digital as well as printed product". If every student has a laptop, etc., etc., then why do we need printed product? I hope it is not because they foresee problems in certain parts of the country (often referred to as "the periphery")...
It is very easy to stand on the sidelines and criticise, and that is not my intention. While not being a computer wizard, I would hope that I am not totally Neanderthal either. I personally like to teach from a book. I am aware of the need to use computers in school, and of the fact that they can complement books perfectly, but do we need to decide that every subject that is taught in school has to go over to complete computerization? I think that as far as English is concerned, the computer is a great tool. If there's so much money 'up for grabs', why not invest it in Interactive White Boards? At the moment, our school has one which is used only for designated classes. I would love to learn more about them. If we use IWBs, this will allow us to have each student focused on the same thing rather than each student working from his own laptop. My guess is that it would be more communicative, and less expensive.
I thought very carefully before writing this mail since, as I've already said, I'm not a computer expert, and it is possible that I have totally misinterpreted some points. If so, I'm sure someone will put me right. However, if there is something in what I say, it seems to me to be a (very expensive) recipe for disaster...
Link for the article:http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=203044