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PUBLISHED ARTICLE: "One Tablet PC per Child Misses Mark
3-May-12 [ by Larry Chao ] 153246 Read and 1 Comment

Thailand government?s One Tablet PC per Child policy is a noble effort to help children gain access to information‚ and to keep up with changing information technologies‚ writes Larry Chao.  But will it help them to think?

Within the next few weeks‚ the first batches of tablet PCs are scheduled to arrive in selected primary and secondary schools across Thailand.  Meanwhile‚ the program to train educational supervisors on how to use these tablet PCs has feverishly begun. 

These supervisors will then fan out across the country and instruct elementary school teachers on how to use them to teach classes.  The result will hopefully be a better educational experience for students. 

At least that is the plan.

The problem is that the role of the tablet PC in improving how children learn is not clear.  How exactly will it be used to sharpen a child?s mind?  What skills is it targeted to develop?  What is the curriculum to support the use of the tablet PC in learning?

I know my 12-year-old daughter loves the tablet PC.  She uses it every chance she gets.  Yet my unscientific research estimates that she uses it less than 10% for school work - mostly gathering information for school projects.  The rest of the time is spent playing games‚ watching funny videos and sending emails to her friends.

The biggest opportunity to improve education for children and young adults is to improve the learning experience.  Specifically‚ how teachers interact actively with children to teach them to think more critically.   

As one assesses manager skill needs today‚ critical thinking and creativity top the list of urgently needed skills.  The days when basic math‚ writing and rote memorization were sufficient to keep a business afloat are over.

Today‚ we are living in a fast paced‚ ever changing world.  Thinking skills are needed to cope and adapt to new situations and come up with innovative solutions.

A human resources executive we?ll call Khun Thanawan sums it up this way: ?We need managers who can make decisions and change course‚ not just follow procedures and policies.  The wave of the future is good execution preceded by thinking carefully through options.?

That is why the previous government?s program to upgrade education called the New Breed of Teachers makes so much sense and should remain a priority.  This program focused on improving the ability of teachers to teach children how to think more critically.  In the process‚ children are also be taught how to be effective learners.

?Jobs are changing rapidly to meet the needs of a dynamic marketplace.  People are expected to learn quickly and contribute in new situations.  But they don?t have years to make a difference.  They need to make an impact quickly or our company misses opportunities‚? said Khun Thanawan.

It is a daunting challenge to break old teaching habits from dictation to opening up students' minds and exercising their critical thinking muscles.  Maybe that is why the tablet PC program is so popular.  It is expedient with high visibility‚ yet it misses the mark.

But if education is so important‚ we should not side-step the real problem.  

Perhaps we might begin by raising teacher salaries to attract high potential candidates.  Then we should create a structured program‚ where one or two schools are designated as training institutes for teachers.  The prime objective of these institutes is to develop a critical mass of passionate teachers‚ who are schooled in progressive teaching methods.  These teachers would be trained by experienced professors and their performance measured.

Once this critical mass has been developed‚ these training institutes could supply other schools with competent teachers to help shape their learning programs. 

Tablet PCs are wonderful devices‚ but they are not a substitute for rigorous teaching‚ or a tool to short-cut the development of skills needed to succeed in today's competitive business world.  Until we exercise a student's mind and teach him how to think‚ we will not improve the quality of our workforce.

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