Insight: IT a means to an educational end
The government is in consultations for the Fourth Strategy on Information Technology in Education and plans to have Wi-fi facilities in all schools in Hong Kong.
It is a move to be applauded, as it will facilitate teaching and learning with the aid of the internet. As commendable as the effort is, authorities should also review or reaffirm the purposes of introducing IT in education and the direction of its development.
Using IT in education has been a main goal worldwide, as it is an essential skill to nurture so that each nation's competitiveness will not be compromised by low digital capability.
However, in education, IT should be regarded as not only an end, but also (or more so) a means to an educational end - the know-what and know-how as well as the know-why and know-what-should-not. Curiosity and knowledge about the new technology is never the main educational issue for youngsters, as they are motivated to use it from a tender age. But how they can use it for learning, especially through the internet, is. So is the issue of adopting proper moral and ethical conduct associated with its use.
Teachers, of course, are expected to learn faster than their charges. This can be challenging as most of them are less IT-adept than their students. Timely training or retraining is needed to help them catch up with the fast-developing technology, especially applying skills to sharpen teaching and learning. A mindset for innovation and efforts to marry IT and pedagogical renewal are indeed called for.
The government has an important role to play in all this. While it can line up the financial resources to upgrade the hardware and infrastructure for schools as it has done recently, it can also do more to foster a learning environment and culture and lead schools in the right direction.
Hardware is, after all, the easier part of the education equation. To help change teachers' mindset and skill sets, communities of learning need to be set up on a district- or territory-wide basis. Teachers need to be shown how IT can be used. For example, there has been much talk recently about self-regulated learning and the flipped classroom approach to teaching. Interested teachers long to see live practice of such innovative ideas in classrooms. Authorities can also encourage more innovations by making sure teachers are more advanced in the use of IT in education than their peers by setting up awards for innovative teaching and learning projects they propose or implement.
Students can also receive such awards by producing good learning programmes using IT. In addition, the authorities can foster international exchanges of ideas for the ultimate good of mankind.
The government can also fund projects to produce quality self-learning programmes, such as those played on YouTube. Or they can encourage IT-related enterprises or multinationals to support or sponsor such innovative endeavours. Apart from promoting applications of information technology, more effort should be made to help schools promote etiquette and ethics in its use by developing teaching materials or kits and supporting public campaigns.
Finally, the government should seek to close the IT gaps among schools and students. Schools in less affluent districts should be given higher priority when it comes to upgrading hardware. There should also be more programmes to assist students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to acquire the necessary hardware and access to the internet for educational use at home.
The battle cry always is: raise the bar and close the gap. Given its small size, openness to the outside world and advanced economy, Hong Kong has the necessary conditions to become an IT-adept city if its government has the will and wisdom.
Robin Cheung is a retired school principal