There is no denying that computers can work magic. But only if there is the right environment to run them
Last month, someone approached me with a request for second-hand computers for his school, which is located in a remote village in Khotang district. I learned that the company I was associated with was not the only company he had approached. He was in contact with similar companies, particularly software companies, as they were likely to have ‘outdated-but-working’ machines. But I was in no mood to donate. This was not because I did not want to do so personally or because my company lacked old computers. My ‘problem’ or should I say ‘question’ was about whether donating computers alone would suffice.
There is no denying that computers can, when put to right use, do magic. But what is required to make these computers effective? In trying to answer this straight-forward question, one first has to consider the software. Given the ubiquity of the internet and amount of information it has, it probably does not make much sense to say that the internet is the missing component. That’s rather a basic foundation.
So, in case of the teacher from Khotang, computers, some content and internet would more or less take him to his goal: the goal of bringing computers to his school and making his students use them effectively. But that is not how it works.
Let’s try to understand the remaining components that make up the ‘eco-system’ of technology to make learning meaningful. One, there should be a school policy aimed at embracing technology. Often, as was the case with this school, there is no clear-cut policy of learning through technology.
Two, whether or not there is a clear policy, another must-have component is strong leadership. The success or failure of any project ultimately hinges on its leaders. The leader has to believe that computers will play a big role in upgrading ‘learning’ of students.
But schools started embracing technology not because of the conviction of school leaders, but rather because computers and other components were being donated to schools for free. When there is excess supply, the ‘appreciation’ for that goods or service is bound to decrease.
Three, the institutions should have enough funds. Computers, at the end of the day, are fairly complex devices and hence need to be looked after with great care, and this costs money.
While the internet is no doubt fairly cheap or even free, it also has the tendency to go down, almost of its own volition. The devices that help with internet connection in turn depend on other devices like modems and routers that need regular monitoring and maintenance. To make matters worse, keyboards can be broken, or there can be virus attacks, or power fluctuations resulting in burnt chips. There are multiple ways in which the entire system could be rendered useless.
Four, there has to be organizational commitment. Leader’s commitment is important but that may not suffice. There also needs to be an environment where everyone, and this mainly includes teachers, is committed to make things happen. At the end of the day, teachers and not necessarily the principal, play the most important role in convincing students to appreciate the usefulness and wonders of technology. And unless there is organizational commitment from all quarters, it would be an exercise in futility.
Five, capability and confidence of teachers who are given the responsibility of using the system are as important. In one pretty well-equipped school—with new computers, good access to internet and enough funds—two new computer graduates found themselves in an awkward situation. Their original mission was to help students make use of computers beyond their mandatory learning.
They wanted to help them with ‘programming’. But rather than students it was the teachers who wanted to learn more about using the computers themselves.
To sum up, decreasing cost of hardware as well as the internet is a reality. So taking technology to schools is not as hard as it once was. But an integrated approach is missing. There is no doubt the initial euphoria of getting a fund, government or non-government, to set up a computer lab with internet connection, thereby bringing everyone one step closer to technology, is a welcome start. But, then, it’s only a start.