Educator par excellence, Jaime Escalante, talks about the roles technology can play in education. Skilled and caring teachers are the key to successful technology implementations and successful students.
The Department of Education recently awarded $10 million to a team of researchers to evaluate how classroom technology can improve student performance in mathematics and reading. Along with other educators, I am interested to see what they will find. But, in some ways, I think the answer to this $10 million question should be obvious—it’s not the technology, it’s the teacher.
No nation spends more on technology than the United States, yet our students continue to lag behind students in other countries in math performance. Something is wrong with this equation.
In too many schools, students are simply not motivated to study mathematics and the sciences. Too many teachers insist on teaching the subjects in the same manner they always have, failing to take advantage of technology that could make their subjects fresh, fun and exciting.
The lives of young people are complex. Even today, I remain impressed that my students achieved the results they did when so many faced unstable situations at home and seemingly insurmountable pressures from their friends to get involved with gangs or drugs. These obstacles won’t go away simply because schools are investing more in classroom technology.
I believe the biggest question on students’ minds each year is whether they are going to be ready to join in and contribute to the adult world after they complete their education. What better use of technology than to help students solve this problem by connecting classroom learning to their dreams and a rewarding career?
At Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, I made it a habit to invite past students to come back and talk about their jobs. These were young men and women who had come from the same inner city neighborhoods as my current students, and who were now working professionals—engineers, scientists and lawyers. I did this to show my students what they could do if they were willing to work hard. I wanted to give them ganas—desire, the willingness to sacrifice, the wish to get ahead.
Not every teacher has the time or resources to bring an engineer or biologist into the classroom. yet technology can help—not with “virtual reality” but with real-world connections through video interviews, informational Web sites, e-mail exchanges, problem-solving activities based on the real challenges that professionals face. Technology can help students see their math and science studies in a new light. It’s not just a matter of making it through a test. These are creative skills, necessary to everything from building bridges to making movies.
Now that I have retired from the classroom, I am counting on technology to help me continue to reach new generations of students. However, I am convinced that there is no perfect approach that works for every student. Unless a skilled and caring teacher is guiding the use of technology, the final result could well be less than zero.
Teacher Jaime Escalante was profiled in the Academy Award-nominated film “Stand and Deliver” and hosted the Peabody Award-winning PBS series, “Futures with Jaime Escalante.” His many teaching awards include the Presidential Medal for Excellence in Education and the Andres Bello Prize from the Organization of American States. He is a member of the President’s Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. He currently resides in Bolivia, but spends a great deal of time in the United States. For more information on his involvement with technology, visit The Futures Channel (www.thefutureschannel.com).