The big theme that I promote in my computer programming courses is collaboration. Teamwork is a fundamental skill to the development of big ideas. Communication and co-operation are fundamental aspects of teamwork. Of course, we have heard the expression, “less is more” but when it comes to brokering large-scale agreements and developing useful technological resources, the truth is that more is better. There is indeed strength and leverage in numbers.
In British Columbia we have 60 distinct school districts that are spread across our diverse province. These districts are all unique in their needs and in the populations they service. The reason we have so many districts, although we have much less than we did years ago (60 today compared with 75 in 1995), is that finding a one-size-fits all system that can adequately address the diversity of our populations is simply put, bad teaching.
The concern that I have however is the lack of collaboration around the development of common technological standards and hardware that can be accessed by teachers from across the province. During a conversation with Vancouver school board Superintendent Steve Cardwell at the July 2012 UBC educational technology symposium, he noted the massive disparity of technology use between schools in his district. He describes a school on the west side of the city where a parent is offering to purchase class sets of of iPads compared to inner-city schools where simply keeping the students fed is of paramount concern.
Now take that example and magnify it across the province. Include other variables such as huge discrepancies between districts receiving an influx of funds from international students or distance learning initiatives and you can see how imbalanced things have become.
Furthermore, districts need a singular and focused vision for technology integration. This needs to be properly communicated and backed up with adequate resources and support. This vision must come from the top and an obvious example of this is the great work being done in West Vancouver under the helm of Chris Kennedy.
We have things like ERAC in BC. This group brokers large deals with software and educational resource vendors and to their credit, they have done some good things. The Microsoft Home Use program and new deals with Adobe have brought powerful software tools to the hands of many teachers. The amazing thing however is that there is still little recognition among everyday teachers that things like ERAC even exist. Publication of these resources and informing teachers about their availability is sorely lacking.
I think we need to be looking towards large-scale ERAC-esque deals with hardware manufacturers. Furthermore as we move closer towards a BYOD culture, plans need to be in place to ensure we are not forgetting those students who come to school hungry and the thought of having to bring a laptop to school is merely a pipe-dream. The power is in numbers and the need is great. We need to level the technological playing field across the province and move away from the corporate schooling model. The competition for international students and distance learning funds has pitted school districts against each other and the result is this imbalance we find today.
There is need from the government whose BC Education Plan heralds a new era of education, mediated by technological innovation, to step up and develop a more balanced infrastructure and funding model to ensure schools across BC can actually facilitate these 21st century ideals.