by Madhavi Sunder
How should we prepare our children for the future? In this column, I want to focus on one particular way: enhancing their ability to understand and design technology.
Most kids in elementary school now will enter the work force in the 2030s. We can safely predict that life will involve computerization even more so than life today, affecting everything from politics, to social life, to work. Preparing children for the future requires educating them for a digital world.
As a candidate for school board I’ve been visiting our schools, meeting with principals, teachers, parents, and children, and touring computer labs. I’m learning what the school district currently offers in relation to technology, and what it needs in the future. Here are some principles I will follow and questions I will ask if I am fortunate enough to be elected to serve on the Davis school board.
- Technology should not replace the teacher. Technology by itself is not a substitute for engaging and inspiring teachers. Technology can, however, be a useful tool for teachers. Classroom excellence begins with hiring professionals who care deeply about students, and then training them continuously, including training on how to use technology effectively.
- Spending on technology must be both careful and accountable. Technology budgets can be substantial. As the New York Times writes, “schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers…” In 2013 the district indicated that it would need “$1.5 million to install wireless technology and upgrade data storage” (Davis Enterprise, May 17, 2013). Even after we purchase technology, maintenance will be costly, and technology becomes obsolete rapidly. We must never have blind faith in technology. The district must be accountable and responsive to questions about efficacy and efficiency. We must use the technology we already have effectively.
- Digital literacy operates on many levels. Digital literacy means not just identifying and locating digital sources, but developing the ability to think critically about them, evaluate and assess them, and even how to make your own content to share in our digital world. These tools are transforming the way that citizens engage with the world, as the Davis Vanguard’s forums themselves demonstrate. We must promote responsibility and respect in online engagement. Digital literacy must include efforts to avoid negative behaviors, such as online bullying and video game addiction.
- We must be ready technologically for new Common Core assessments. The new assessments to be conducted across state schools dispense with penciled-in bubbles in favor of tests taken on computers. The district has been spending money to upgrade the computer infrastructure, in part to prepare for the new standardized tests. In November, the School Board voted to spend $772,365 on technology readiness.
- Creating coders. According to Jessie Chabot, co-founder and director of the new Davis Code Camps (with Ray Valdez), 21st century jobs, from auto mechanics to small businesses will require the ability to make and control computer software. Can our schools teach kids not just how to use computers, but how to program them? A 2010 report on K-12 computer education by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) found that most schools focus only on teaching students how to use computers and run applications, rather than deeper concepts such as problem-solving and programming. To combat this problem, the California legislature is advancing bills right now that would expand the teaching of computer science in schools across the state. Davis High School (DHS) has introduced a course on Robotics and has two established courses, one on computer networking, and the other on computer programming (in C++ and Java). The Davis Code Camps, an afterschool program just begun in Davis, demonstrate that children as young as 7 can learn skills that go beyond playing video games to making simple games themselves.
- Gaining STEAM. We should promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education, but also add an “A” for Arts because art and design promote not only marketable, technical skills, but the creativity that lies at the heart of innovation.
- Finding Resources. We will need to be creative in finding resources to support technology education. The computer networking class at Davis High School is sponsored by Cisco. Such public-private partnerships can be useful in expanding opportunities for our children, so long as they do not compromise the independence of the instruction itself. People will ask: how can I talk about expanding programs for our children in a time of limited resources? I will actively seek Technology Partners to bring more opportunities to all kids, and also encourage our district to utilize free services available to teach computing, such as MIT’s Scratch language.
- Opportunities for all. We should ensure that all students have the opportunities to learn computing, including girls and other underrepresented populations in the STEM workforce. The C-STEM Center at UC Davis is developing formal and informal K-14 computer education for all kids. We should tap into such programs.
I offer these ideas as a way to begin a conversation on technology in our schools. I am certain there are other important principles and questions, so I would love to hear from you.
Madhavi Sunder has been a professor of law at UC Davis since 1999 and is a candidate for a 4-year seat on the Davis School Board in November 2014. To learn more about her campaign please visit www.sunderforschools.org.