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Still Waiting for the Revolution… 26 January, 2009

Posted by paralleldivergence in education, ICT in Education, Internet, NSW, Politics, technology.
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Date Log: January 2009. Still waiting for the revolution.

Australia’s Digital Education Revolution is coming. Even before it started, it was identified that the $1.2 billion promised was not going to be enough, so now with the injection of a further $807 million, Educational Authorities across the country are investigating hardware options including laptops and wireless connectivity. But Dr Alan Kay is still not convinced that this will be the revolution our children need.


So who is Dr Alan Kay, and what would he know anyway? Well, apart from being directly involved with many of the milestones of Information and Communications Technology, including the development of the graphical user interface and mouse at Xerox PARC and defining the conceptual basics for laptop and tablet computers and E-books, Kay is a forward-thinking educationalist.

He has been anticipating an “Education Revolution” for over a decade now and way back in 2003 Kay was interviewed by Scholastic and related many of reasons why the Revolution has been delayed.  Sadly, most of those reasons are still with us today.  And we are still waiting.

When asked why he believes that the computer revolution hasn’t happened yet, Kay replied:

“Most schools define computer literacy as being able to operate Microsoft Office and maybe do a little web design. They’re missing the point. That’s like saying, “If you know which end of a book to hold up, and you know how to turn to Chapter Three, then you’re literate.”

Literature is first and foremost about having ideas important enough to discuss and write down in some form. So you have to ask, “What is the literature that is best written down on a computer?”

In this new age of the social web, the literature our students write needs to have an audience – to read, to appraise, to respond and to discuss. Rote learning and regurgitation  does nothing to promote the critical thinking that is essential in an ICT-based world.

When asked about the return value of the $40 billion spent on ICT in U.S. schools, Kay said:

“It’s a chicken and the egg thing. What’s happened is probably a successful egg—but with no chicken yet in sight. I can go into virtually any school that has computers and see children who are happily using them, as well as see teachers who are happy that the kids are using them. Parents are happy, principals are happy, and school boards are happy. But if you know anything about computing or about math and science, you can see that very little of importance is going on there. “

Of one-to-one computing in our schools?:

“I think the big problem is that schools have very few ideas about what to do with the computers once the kids have them. It’s basically just tokenism, and schools just won’t face up to what the actual problems of education are, whether you have technology or not.

You can put a piano in every classroom, but that won’t give you a developed music culture, because the music culture is embodied in people.  The important thing here is that the music is not in the piano. And knowledge and edification is not in the computer. The computer is simply an instrument whose music is ideas.

Educators have to face up to what 21st-century education needs to be about, and start thinking about solving that problem long before they bring the computer on the scene.”

Yet here we are in 2009, six whole years have passed since this interview and we are about to introduce hundreds of thousands of laptops into schools – the instruments are arriving before we have the musicians who can play them.

Fidel Castro once said, “A Revolution is a struggle between the past and the future”. His fellow revolutionist, Che Guevara said, “The Revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall”.

It appears that our apple has already rotted but is still hanging on due to the overwhelming force of apathy. Still, the Revolution is coming.



1. Sam G - 26 January, 2009

It’s pretty bad when you can point out that nothing has changed in at least six years, yet we are still heading down this path of one-to-one computers for students. Where are the laptops for teachers? How on earth is this ever going to work? What will my students use these laptops for in my maths class where the text book, stencils and blackboard (now whiteboard) have reigned for decades?

If I had one of these laptops, perhaps I could work out how I might be able to teach with it. Do they really think they’ll be able to show me -let alone every other high school teacher in the country how these things can be used in every single subject?

Two billion dollars. That’s a ‘B’. I use computers and the internet quite frequently at home, but not so much at school. It just doesn’t fit into what I HAVE to teach. I agree that we all need to improve our ICT skills, but what’s the point if they are going to judge me on the written test results I achieve with my students? Two billion dollars. I can think of so many better things to spend that amount of money on.

They’d better do a cost-benefit analysis of this project. That’s all I have to say.

2. ggw_bach - 26 January, 2009

when people start teaching themselves, taking care of their own minds, the revolution will have arrived.

3. tobeme - 27 January, 2009

This is such a wise and wonderful article. Our education system is antiquated in so many ways. The computer revolution is so very apparent. Putting the cart before the horse, filling the check block, however not putting any substance behind it. Thank-you for sharing this. It should be on every headmasters and principles desk and should be read and understood daily until they “get it”.

4. Tony Searl - 27 January, 2009

Tokenistic is being generous to those who believe a renaissance in education will occur simply by sprinkling more technology on top. Passe? totally.

The shallow hope of a learning osmosis (revolution?) simply by illusionary proximal association, ala David Copperfield, is now so old it’s actually sad we still have leaders believing in it.

More apt adjectives may include irresponsible, wasteful, politically expedient or my favourite, boguns. I’d argue the revolution we need to have in education has diddly squat to do with technology, but that’s a whole new scratching post.

Maybe too many conductors are broken, still spinning their boxed set vinyl classic hits of the 60’s to 90’s when they should be leading and providing relevant instrument tuition in what their orchestras actually engage with? Go on, blow it !

When circuitous 20 year old “technology revolution” debates such as this are finally redundant we may have actually arrived. They are just Tools (sic) and we all know what happens to dodgy tradespeople who blame theirs for shoddy outcomes?

Thats what really worries me this time; the tools are becoming cheaply ubiquitous, the bosses return on investment expectation is huge, the tradies don’t really know what to do with the hammers BUT they are vested with total reponsibility to construct a thing of beauty that the junta can then revel in, or else.

Stu, a top thought provoker.

5. paralleldivergence - 27 January, 2009

@Sam G: It really is a lot of money, isn’t it, and as taxpayers, we have every right to question how it’s going to be used. Furthermore, as insiders, we can see a lot more of the issues that the layperson/parent who probably thinks this is a wonderful thing. This one definitely needs to be evaluated. We all want to now we are getting our money’s worth. One thing I’m worried about is is this a once off? Is this money for four years and that’s it, or are we really committed to this spending every four years? Will a change in government continue the project? Will staying with the same goverment continue it? You have to question continuing it if the cost-benefit analysis does fall on the wrong side of the ledger.

@ggw_bach: We preach this concept of lifelong learning, but how many teachers actually practice it? Nuff said. 🙂

@tobeme: If a school principal was able to solve this problem, I’m sure they would have done so a long time ago. It’s the curriculum, the assessments and the measurements that are wrong. They simply do not allow for ICTs in any way. When it is possible to teach a higher school Information Processes and Technology course without even touching a computer, you know there is something wrong. (I kid you not).

@Tony: Your article gave me the motivation to continue this important thread. It has implications for education worldwide. It won’t take long after the computers are delivered for the key missing ingredient in the “revolution” to force a hasty retreat.

6. paralleldivergence - 1 February, 2009

Latest News Update: High School Teachers in New South Wales to receive a wireless mini-laptop computer just like their senior students. http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/teachers-in-laptop-of-luxury/2009/01/31/1232818794645.html – I’m sure it will help the teachers to have access to the same devices their students have. But is it enough?

7. 23 Things about Classroom Laptops « - 19 May, 2009

[…] highly recommend you read this post about Dr Alan Kay’s thoughts over at Parallel Divergence. I was thinking it was 3 years ago, […]

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