Laptops of the World

globe

… is the title of a post on the Good blog. It is a thorough and thought-provoking comparison of the use of digital technology, specifically laptops, in schools in the U.S. (featuring Philadelphia’s School of the Future) and Norway. According to author Daniel Brook

In inner-city Philadelphia, a pilot program is arming its high schoolers with laptops. But in countries like Norway—and increasingly in the developing world—that’s the norm. Why is the United States so behind? And is it worth it to play catch-up?

…while the United States integrates computers on the patchwork, pilot-program model of developing countries like Peru, many of our economic peers—especially in technophilic Scandinavia—are embracing them as universal, an essential part of 21st century education. As an American high school student might ask: What’s up with that?

 He concludes that it all boils down to the fact that:

In the United States, laptops are too often regarded as a silver bullet that can transform an under-performing inner-city school, replacing traditional modes of learning. In Norway, laptops are seen as a necessary add-on to keep students up-to-date in a changing world.

The article raises a lot of important issues, and in my mind, they are more big picture questions than purely digital technology ones:

  • Replicability: the School of the Future is enormously expensive ($62 million plus) for it to be replicated on a large scale. Yet, countries like Norway and Scotland seem to have found ways to integrate technologies in K-12 on relatively large scales. Granted, they are much smaller than the U.S., but they have found a way to do it. Maybe the U.S. can learn a thing or two from them.
  • Attitudes toward education as a whole. Brook’s conclusions speak volumes for the difference in attitude between the U.S. and countries like Norway. It seems like in the U.S., we are constantly looking for the one magic solution that will solve all problems (in schools and beyond).
  • What kids know and can do: According to the article:  “Shortly after observing a class of Norwegian 17-year-olds competing to design the cheapest functional bridge (freeware courtesy of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point), I am back at the School of the Future. Sitting in the Philadelphia math class, it is hard to imagine that these students are the same age as they plot simple inequalities like “-2 < x < 3″ on a number line… Without the requisite background math skills, it’s virtually impossible to do more interesting work like bridge-building. In the Norwegian class, the latest technology allows students to do ever more sophisticated tasks. In Philadelphia, despite the technology, the students lagged far behind grade level.
  • And of course societal problems in general: “As Professor Ketelhut puts it, “It’s frustrating when people think we can find a single thing to ‘fix’ the schools. Maybe their home is condemned and they’re living in a car. The School of the Future is not going to change that student’s life. Six hours a day isn’t going to fix what happens the other 18 hours of the day. We can’t give every kid a laptop like that’s going to change everything.”

Interesting article, definitely worth a read. Of course, the solutions to these problems aren’t easy ones, and I’m not sure how fair and equitable the comparison between the US and Norway is, given the differences between the two countries. However, it is worth looking at the differences in mindsets, and to take a look at what is working in Norway and why. And as a final thought: it’s not necessarily the type of technology that’s at stake here.

Image Credit: “Globe post card sample 2”, from Mishel Churkin’s photostream:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/churkinms/2582615027/in/set-72157604413208201/

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