I have been exploring the idea of technology in education since attending the Jean Piaget Society (JPS) Conference in San Francisco in early June. The theme for the 2017 conference was Technology and Human Development. In my last blog post, I reflected on the increasing rate of change in technology and how that exponential change makes predicting the future of the technology with regards to learning and education extremely difficult. However, I believe it is also important to frame the question of technology in terms of history as well. We tend to think of technology in terms of things like computers, iPhones, and the Internet. While the rapid advancement of digital technology and its role in education has seemingly been in the spotlight only recently, in actuality we have been debating the role of technology in education for over 5,000 years.
For much of ancient civilization, the use of the oral tradition and common experience were the only ways to pass on information to the next generation. The invention of writing can be traced back to Sumer in 3600 BCE. Around 3200 BCE, complex pictorial representations in the form of hieroglyphics were developed in Egypt. Finally, we have found evidence of literature in the form of stories based in Sumerian from around 2500 BCE. With written language the world changed, and the form of education changed with it. In that context, even a simple pencil, which we often take for granted, is a marvel of technology.
In 1795, the modern pencil was invented by Nicholas Conte, a scientist in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. An average pencil can draw a line 35 miles long, write 45,000 words, and even delete its own mistakes. At the time of its invention, the pencil was the ultimate form of technology, one that could allow literary expression, design, art, and communication with ease.
Today our world is reinventing itself every few years at a continually increasing pace with the help of technology. When I was young, the new “hot” invention was a shoebox sized calculator. When I was in college, the idea of a handheld computer was only seen in Star Trek. The statistic I keep running across is that 60% of the jobs that children who are in kindergarten today will be applying for when they graduate from college do not yet exist. How do we as teachers go about preparing students for jobs we have yet to imagine? Something has to change. While we should not forget the past, it is time for us to look forward and think how we might reinvent our educational framework and delivery for the next generation of children. We must learn from the past, but at the same time we must keep our eyes firmly focused on the horizon and be prepared to discover what the future holds for us all.