Some schools tours eagerly show parents the smartboards, learning labs and provided iPads as evidence of a cutting-edge learning environment. Many are following the lead of The U.S. Department of Education which advocates technology use in the classroom in order to “support thinking, stimulate motivation, promote equity and prepare students for the future.” The money spent on these efforts is, in itself, impressive, but is all this glowing interaction indicative of a more enriched learning environment?
While the efforts may impress, teaching with tech has yielded disappointing results. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which released a comprehensive study in 2015, Students, Computers and Learning, has found, “Most countries that invested heavily in education related IT equipment did not witness an appreciable improvement in student achievement over the past 10 years.”
When it comes to PISA scores, the same study notes that international technology investments, “are not linked to improved student achievement in math, reading or science.” In fact, those with less classroom tech had better, more progressive reading results on PISA tests. But perhaps the most powerful take-away from the research is encapsulated in this quote:
“Computer use in classrooms and at home can displace other activities that are conducive to learning.”
It is this displacement, of proven learning activities in the classroom, that is disconcerting to Waldorf Educators. Unlike flashy tech, movement, art, music, and note taking by hand, are all scientifically proven to support brain development when integrated into the curriculum. Yet sadly these are often the underfunded programs in many schools. It may be argued that these subjects are less valued because they do not fill as many pockets with revenue.
That said, Waldorf Education is not anti-tech as some suspect. The Waldorf philosophy on technology is based on a developmentally appropriate curriculum, founded on the understanding that every child goes through three distinct phases of development: infancy and early childhood (birth to 7); middle childhood (7 to 14); and adolescence (14 to 21). Waldorf high school, and some middle school, students use technology as a teaching tool, but it has no place in the Waldorf elementary and early childhood education. For children under the age of twelve, the focus remains on hands-on learning of core subjects along with music training, play, outdoor education, cursive handwriting, storytelling, and art.
It should be noted that even tech executives in Silicon Valley see the wisdom of this low-tech approach for younger students. In the New York Times Article, article, A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute, a parent who is a former Intel and Microsoft executive explains simply why this approach makes sense for his three children, “Engagement is about human contact, the contact with the teacher, the contact with their peers.”
But what about typing, online test taking, spreadsheets and word document programs? Waldorf educators would argue that high school students, who have studied a rich and diverse curriculum that encourages critical thinking, can quickly learn these fundamentally basic computer skills. In fact, leaders in our technological, 21st century will not be hired for their ability to make a nice powerpoint. They will need critical thinking skills, intrinsic motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination. The fact remains that there are many scientifically supported, offline teaching methods that can be used to cultivate these skills. Thus far technology teaching has not measured up to the task.
In Waldorf Education and the Use of Technology, Vicki Larson writes, “Waldorf graduates tell their alma maters that they graduate and enter the world ready to meet and master the technology that surrounds them, and grateful for the time they had to explore the physical, non-mediated world before encountering the digital one.”
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