While lamenting - and writing about - the realization that some school boards in Ontario are now allowing technology to read even LITERACY tests TO struggling students, I recognize the seriousness of the negative impact the use of technology is having on The Basic Skills that most parents assume are being taught. Technology, in these locations, is being used to abrogate a board's mandate to produce young people with essential life skills.
For more than a decade now children have not been provided carefully constructed lessons in printing; there is no longer any stress on the most efficient way to form each letter. We have left it to kids to devise their own approach and style. The difficulties of those who struggle are brushed aside with the comment "Never mind, they'll end up using a keyboard anyway..." (I am deliberately going to avoid the red herring of the cursive writing debate; many of our children cannot even PRINT legibly. In any case, properly scaffolded lessons teaching the D'Nealian style of printing could provide a happy medium...)
We are all familiar with our drastic decline in Math scores. Our children cannot comfortably progress much beyond Grade 3 level because the far-too-early use of calculators has left them unable to recognize relationships and patterns within a set of numbers. These skills are essential for working with denominators and factors from Grade 4 onward. And they are skills that cannot be performed by a calculator. Calculators cannot “see” or “recognize”.
Students who come for tutoring quickly realize that they are not nearly as "dumb" as our system has made them feel. In addition to sharing a common neuro-physiological trait (which I have written about elsewhere) they also share one troubling personality trait - a total lack of self-confidence. This feeds directly into the need for Mental Health initiatives. More willingness to provide appropriate, truly differentiated programs of instruction, might be far more effective in helping these young people, than simply “providing mental health support”.
Special Ed funds, instead of being used to seek out more effective ways to teach struggling students, are magically siphoned off for more popular uses such as providing the elite and expensive International Baccalaureate program for the "brightest and best".
ABC parents (Association for Bright Children) have become a powerful lobby group. When I tried to become an advocate on our Board’s Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC), the Learning Disability Association of Ontario (LDAO) refused to have me represent them – on the grounds that I was arguing against the disproportionate funding of gifted students. The Director of LDAO, at the time, had a child with an autism-with-giftedness profile, and was a member of ABC.
As tax payers. we have to ask ourselves why we tolerate a system that creates so much failure while providing an "Academic Apartheid" program for the most capable? Do we really have a vested interest in creating young people who KNOW they are illiterate, who are discouraged, who are driven to look elsewhere for a sense of worth? We also have to ask why the math skills of our leaders themselves are so weak that they cannot realize that the stellar results of very few at the top, can never compensate for the poor results of the other 80%.
Technology can be a valuable investment when used as a means to an end; in our elementary public schools, it appears only to boost company profits while helping mask the difficulties of floundering children. During almost four years in Chinese elementary schools I found NO technology in use; the young Asian children (Chinese, Korean, Malaysian, Taiwanese) were significantly more advanced academically than our own. I also found them more eager to learn and much happier.
In short, calculators have eliminated computation skills, keyboards have become an excuse not to teach printing, and now machines read TO illiterate students. No more Reading, Writing, OR Arithmetic.
And still parents continue to have faith in our Education Ministry and in their local school board.
(I write as a 72-year-old retiree with more than 50 years in education in Canada, in the Third World, and in International Schools in Finland, England, and China. I have nothing personal to gain; my future is behind me. But I do remain TOTALLY committed to the best possible education for EVERY INDIVIDUAL CHILD.)