No, smartphones cannot replace classrooms. Here’s why

The educationist and media theorist Neil Postman argued that the path to learning is a difficult one — it requires attention to “sequence”,“perspiration”, “perseverance” and “perplexity”. Madhav Chavan’s article, ‘Classroom at a click’ (IE, Jan 18) is in complete opposition to the idea of learning as an arduous journey. Chavan celebrates the spread of technology and argues that it would make it possible to teach, learn and test “anytime-anywhere”. He says the recently released ASER 2023 Report indicates an increase in smartphone ownership and the ability to use them among youth in the age group of 14-18 years. However, the faith in digital technology as an enabler in accessing knowledge and widening opportunities needs to be scrutinised.

While Chavan acknowledges that increased school enrolment does not imply enhanced learning, he fails to see a similar distinction between smartphone access and learning. An increase in access to digital devices cannot ensure automatic knowledge construction or skill development.

My criticism of the uninhibited use of internet technology in education is threefold. First, a challenge to this is presented when the medium itself is placed under a scanner of critique. Sociologist Basil Bernstein called digital technology “quasi-pedagogical” wherein education becomes a process of transmission, and the provider of the transmission is often unaware of the consequences of such a transmission. Education, on the other hand, does not entail the transmission of information or transaction of ideas. It is an intended and planned activity involving the mutual construction of knowledge through dialogue and discovery. Even though internet technology brings a wide array of information at the learner’s disposal, it turns the process of learning into an act of telling and consuming. The information presented in “educational” videos is monological and unidirectional. The possibility of discussion, argument, and contestation of ideas in a classroom is undermined if the digital platform is accepted as an instrument to enhance the quality of education.

Second, the idea that learning can happen “anytime-anywhere” ignores the country’s socio-economic reality. It does not consider a student’s environment that could be fraught with violence, discrimination, or poverty. It undermines the significance of the classroom as a space where students can divorce themselves from their immediate realities and engage in the process of learning with their teachers and peers. In a society ridden with caste and religious distinctions, the physical classroom space provides a chance to overcome socioeconomic barriers and learn collaboratively. The uninhibited internet consumption can expose learners to ideas that could strengthen the identities they were ascribed at birth, rather than challenging them.

Finally, Chavan argues that technology can offer education that is different from schools and colleges — it would give importance to issues such as natural resource management, environment, and climate. His argument assumes that the training required for agriculture, forestry and fisheries can take place effectively online and easy connections can be made with environmental awareness. Such an argument overlooks the disconnect that internet technology creates. There are two ways to learn through digital means: By watching videos, and by attending a live class with a teacher. In the former, the video will most likely be generic and produced without knowing who the viewer is and what their specific context is. In the latter, the teacher could be anywhere in the country and the learners could also be from diverse backgrounds. In both cases, the learner will only receive information that might not be suited to their occupational specificity or geographical context. Moreover, formal training in traditional occupations such as agriculture needs to be interdisciplinary and include economic, demographic, geographical and scientific concepts — this seems beyond the scope of education “delivered” via a smartphone.

Festive offer

In a recent book, Mark West, who works in UNESCO’s education sector said education technology exacerbates inequalities, impoverishes the quality of education, slows down the process of socialisation and cultivates a behaviour of consumerism among students, parents and teachers. Instead of viewing education through digital means as an all-encompassing provider, adopting a sceptical stance would clear out the digital gloss and classrooms would emerge as reliable spaces for learning, albeit in need of reform.

The writer is a former history teacher and a scholar of education at the University of Delhi


Next Post

The best budget laptops in 2024 - January top picks

Wed Jan 24 , 2024
Best Budget Laptop: Quick Menu I think the best budget laptops are good enough for basic work and play without feeling cheap. They don’t cost an arm and a leg yet offer decent performance, decent screens and battery life that’s good enough. They aren’t all stodgy grey clamshell laptops, either. […]
The best budget laptops in 2024 – January top picks

You May Like