Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Arnie replaced textbooks with the Net

Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, wants to phase out school textbooks because they are too expensive.
"Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's Governor, announced this week that his state is about to phase out school books and substitute the internet in classrooms from the autumn, the news was presumably greeted with little more than a twitch of a baseball cap (turned backwards). Because California is close to bankruptcy, saving money is a priority, and this move will cut several hundred million dollars from the education budget. Mr Schwarzenegger also thinks that converting schools to online study will help to keep pupils more up to date, and that once textbooks are digitised they can be so easily revised that learning will always keep pace with progress."
Firstly let's give the guy a pat on the back - he or his advisers think it might be a good idea to use the Net in education. Welcome to the 21st century Mr Schwarzenegger. Secondly let's tolerate his "Wayhay I've found the internet cure for our education woes" eureka moment.

But somebody needs to enlighten him that believing the Net can directly and cheaply substitute for good textbooks (though from what Richard Feynman had to say about Californian textbooks might suggest I should drop the adjective there) is a solution to his problems which is simple, obvious and wrong.

Don't get me wrong, as a technophile in a university that has wholeheartedly embraced multimedia technologies as terrific educational tools and environments, I know first hand (and have the scars to prove it) that the Net can be deployed to spectacular effect (and at large scale) in this context. However, it is not simple, it is not cheap, and by and large it facilitates entirely new approaches and compliments rather than substitutes for effective pre-internet age educational tools (like texts) and practices. And somebody approaching the use of the net in education with the idea that is a cheap and easy substitute will fail, create a lot of frustration and do a lot of damage. It ranks right up there with the 'computer in every classroom will cure education' meme from the 1980s and 1990s.

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