Tech gadgets aid teachers, less so students

Tablets and laptops used by Singapore schools help improve teaching processes and enable better learning, say education practitioners, but others express reservations over impact on academic results.

As gadgets such as laptops and tablets are used by schools in Singapore to enhance teaching processes and facilitate better learning, educators said some efficiency has been gleaned but downsides such as distraction and lack of tangible results to students' grades exist.

Singapore's Ministry of Education (MOE) told ZDNet Asia that all local schools are currently given an ICT Equipment and Service grant to purchase IT equipment, software and services. This does not mean that schools should only spend it on specific devices but to explore how learning and teaching could be enhanced using technology, a spokesperson noted in an e-mail.

"The use of technology is driven by pedagogies and the learning needs of students. It is not about equipping classrooms with state-of-the-art equipment," he added.

Parents have also endorsed MOE's IT initiative, according to Lee Boon Keng, chief technology architect for learning at Crescent Girls' School. He said the school has seen a 100 percent adoption rate in the past three years since tablet PCs were introduced for classroom learning.

This IT push has reaped some benefits, said Sri Darmavijaya, an English and Mathematics teacher at CHIJ Kellock, in which Apple's iPod Touch and iPad devices are used for lessons.

For instance, she said these devices help during outdoor Math lessons as teachers no longer need to bring along teaching equipment such as cubes and rotate these among the students. Now, students can learn via the software installed on their individual devices.

Justin Leow, who formerly taught English at Maris Stella High School gave a slightly different perspective. Instead of improving the process, such high-technology gadgets have changed the way students learn, he noted during a phone interview.

"It is good in the sense that it prepares them for the working world in the future where things are centered on the use of a computer," he said.

Downsides of technology
However, the flipside is students will "lose some skills" such as the focus needed to read passages of text in the process, noted Leow, who is currently pursuing his post-graduate. "Because students are used to the moving pictures seen through their Macbooks...their ability to sit down and focus on reading is lost."

The device becoming a source of distraction is another negative by-product. Maris Stella student Brendan Loi, for one, admitted that he used his Macbook more for "personal stuff" than for school-related activities.

This has not gone unnoticed by Lee, who revealed that the Crescent Girls' School IT department "works closely" with the disciplinary committee and students who were caught surfing the Internet during school hours would be disciplined. The school also regularly engages with the students regarding cyber awareness and the dangers present online, responsible usage of hardware and intellectual property rights, he added.

Leow added that it was "inevitable" to be distracted by our devices. "Even university students are using their laptops for personal use and getting distracted during lectures and seminars. However, this is not an indicator for not learning," he said.

To manage this challenge, building strong relationships with the students' parents is "fundamental" as it is up to them to control and monitor their children outside school hours, urged Lee.

No tangible results yet
Furthermore, there is no real evidence that students' grades are improving through the use of technology, admitted Elizabeth Chang, IT head at CHIJ Kellock. She said during a recent interview that the mobile devices are currently being used for "holistic assessment" and to provide feedback to students on the lessons and skills learnt using these gadgets.

As the IT initiative is still in its trial phase and there are a few more years to go before the pioneer batch of students utilizing the mobile devices graduate, it will be some time before the school can gauge the impact technology had on the children's academic results, she explained.

One parent also expressed her reservations. Kate Beh, whose daughter is currently studying at Crescent Girls' School, felt that the gadgets would help students become more efficient by making information easily accessible but would not improve their examination results.

"Ultimately, when it comes to studying, it is about using their brains, not technology," Beh stated.