Schools should have textbooks — and e-books
IT'S a textbook argument: old-fashioned techniques versus newfangled technology.
In classrooms across the Coast, it's becoming a question of whether to opt for old-school hard copy books or the new age of computer tablets - and parents are passionate about which choice is better for their child.
This year, a school in Sydney declared the e-book era over and returned to the old-fashioned textbook, saying it improves comprehension and reduces distraction.
However, studies by the US Department of Education show that technology-based instruction can reduce the time students take to reach a learning objective by 30-80 per cent.
At our own Gold Coast universities, campus bookshops are now primarily a provider of merchandise and memorabilia. Textbooks are still stocked but have largely been replaced by articles and studies assigned by lecturers that can be accessed online - providing more dynamic and current coursework.
The truth about technology, unlike our textbooks of old, is not black and white.
When it comes to education, one of the biggest lessons from recent studies is simply that one-size does not fit all. Every child learns in a unique way.
Our schools and teachers have enough to grapple with without creating individual lesson plans for each student. But providing a choice - or even a combination - of both text and tablet is something that should be workable.
I'll admit that I'm not a huge fan of devices in schools.
In fact, I'm absolutely opposed to mobile phones - if you need to call a parent, go to the office or send an email from your computer.
Not only do phones enable distractions and aid on-campus bullying, they also seem to be an accident waiting to happen for schools themselves. Every campus that allows phones on the grounds is just one social media video away from scandal and humiliation.
But as for the tablets and computers themselves, I can vouch for their validity.
When an optional BYOD program was first introduced to my son's year level, we opted out.
Forget it, I thought. He'll lose it/play games on it/break it. It's not that I think poorly of my child - it's just he was a 10-year-old boy at the time. Trust can only extend so far.
But when I grew tired of sharing my laptop at home for his online homework, we bit the bullet and bought him his own device. And the improvement in his class work was marked.
Suddenly, there was continuity between his work in class and at home. Because I could see what he was working on, it improved our understanding of his strengths and weaknesses. And as a child who really does not enjoy the physical act of handwriting, it allows him to practice and improve upon his typing.
And I would absolutely welcome the addition of e-books to his curriculum.
While the practice of assigning specific work and articles online is suitable for university students, the general lack of either hard copy or electronic textbooks at primary school-level means our students are not learning how to study.
Once they reach high school they are loaded up with texts - in whatever format - and tests, but they have not yet been taught the skills of how to prepare.
After spending six months in the US school system a few years ago, I was amazed at how the children were trained to take tests.
Even in Year 2, my daughter was given a textbook in which she would highlight appropriate passages, then practise remembering those facts, then provide them as answers in a simple test.
No matter how our education system develops, testing will never become a practice of the past.
So we need to make sure our students learn how to study. And for that we just need books.
Whether they are hard copy or electronic, is purely academic.