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Jacques Martin

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Will Every Child Be Left Behind?

Will Every Child Be Left Behind?

The politicians are at it again with their general collective hallucinations. Recently Rod Paige, the U.S. Secretary of Education, made the following statement:

There is a new fervor in American education and a new creativity that's being driven in part by this generation of tech-savvy students. We are already seeing some remarkable results, and I believe this trend bodes well for the future of our country. As the report noted, America's students are our ultimate constituents, and we need to listen to them.

Paige added that teachers are transforming what can be done in schools by using technology to access primary sources, exposing students to a variety of perspectives, and enhancing students' overall learning experience through multimedia, simulations, and interactive software. At the same time, teachers, principals, and administrators are able to better track student achievement and adjust instruction more effectively to individual needs.

The report includes Paige's vision and recommendations for a National Education Technology Plan based on input received from educators and technology experts across the country.

According to the report, the technology that has so dramatically changed the world outside our schools is now changing the learning and teaching environment within them. This change is driven by an increasingly competitive global economy and the students themselves, who are "born and comfortable in the age of the Internet."

"As these encouraging trends develop and expand over the next decade, facilitated and supported by our ongoing investment in educational technology..." the report said, "...we may be well on our way to a new golden age in American education."

Well Mr. Paige, if you took the time to visit some real public schools and spoke with some real students and teachers, you would find that the average public school teacher in America has almost no understanding of technology nor an ability to use it for any useful purpose except in the most rudimentary fashion. School teachers as a group have been left behind in the technology revolution just as the weavers were in 19th-century Europe.

If you do not believe me, ask a teacher to explain what an application server is. Or ask something much simpler, such as, how does an operating system work? You'll be greeted with a blank stare. Or try to get a group of them to explain how a computer video game works and, more importantly, why almost every one of their students find those games more interesting than anything the public school has to offer.

The reality is that the average public school teacher doesn't know anything about XML, Web services, Grid computing, application servers, or almost any important technology, no less have the ability to explain and teach it to someone.

I have asked many public school teachers why they do not have a basic understanding of information technology. (By the way, whenever I have used the term information technology, I had to explain IT to them, and they always responded, "Oh, computers!") And the conversation always follows with the statement that they were never trained "on computers." The conversation then turns to how bright the kids are with computers - they use the Web, chat, send e-mail, and play computer games all the time.

I have tried and failed to explain to many teachers over the years that using an application (if the application was created with care and intelligence) requires very little intelligence and few skills, but it does require patience. It is writing an application that requires high skills and intelligence. This is where the conversation ends and they change the topic or walk away.

Mr. Paige, information technology skills come to those who go out and get them, not to those who wait for someone to hand deliver them. In order for anything you have said to ever be true, you first have to re-educate all of the public school teachers, and then take it from there.

More Stories By Jacques Martin

Jack Martin, editor-in-chief of WebSphere Journal, is cofounder and CEO of Simplex Knowledge Company (publisher of Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance Journal http://www.s-ox.com), an Internet software boutique specializing in WebSphere development. Simplex developed the first remote video transmission system designed specifically for childcare centers, which received worldwide media attention, and the world's first diagnostic quality ultrasound broadcast system. Jack is co-author of Understanding WebSphere, from Prentice Hall.

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