The days of teachers asking students to open their books to a certain chapter are almost behind us, with technology fundamentally changing an education system that once relied heavily on the printed page. Now laptops, tablets and electronic books are part of an ever-expanding digital learning revolution.
Students, teachers and parents are trying to adapt to these new learning tools. There are many encouraging applications, such as students being able to work at their own pace as they learn vocabulary and spelling. In addition, standardized tests in California have moved from paper and pencils to computers, pushing many districts into technology at a much faster rate.
We must keep in mind that technology is merely a tool, and that it still takes willing students, supportive parents and gifted teachers to make magic in the classroom. But by embracing technology, teachers have more time to help students take advantage of the learning opportunities. Right now, educators are trying to figure how to best use these teaching tools and ensure they are more than electronic gadgets.
In four quarterly special sections this year, The Bee is taking a deeper look at educational issues in the central San Joaquin Valley. In today's section , The Bee's newsroom explores digital learning, and whether it will help close the achievement gap and improve graduation rates.
In the main story in this section, reporter Hannah Furfaro points out that it's not yet clear whether students actually learn more when they use technology, although teachers say that digital devices keep students more engaged. That should translate to better results if our schools can take advantage of that engagement.
One of the many challenges is a wide disparity in the digital skills of teachers. That means the proper training of teachers in the use of technology is crucial to classroom success. Bridging the skills gap among teachers must be part of a district's overall strategy.
The education technology shift in the state has been driven partly by the adoption of the Common Core academic standards. The goal is to give every California student a computer within five years. State Schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson said the state is 25% to 40% toward reaching its goal. That is especially helpful in poor school districts where the digital divide is the largest.
While we encourage the digital transformation in our schools, districts must move with caution and have a well-planned digital strategy in place before purchasing expensive equipment. There is much more to digital learning than just equipping students and teachers with the latest devices.
It appears that local school districts are on the right track, but there should be a constant reassessment of the digital strategy so children have the best opportunity to succeed. The achievement gap is very wide from district to district in the Valley, and that means not every student has had an equal educational opportunity. Technology can help close the gap.