A Personal Story : Learning and New Technologies In Education

By Mario deSantis, February 1, 1999

In the last 20 years there has been a debate among educators on the effectiveness of computers in enhancing the learning processes of our students(1). In particular, the current trend to hook up every public school to the Internet has been regarded by some educators(2) as an effort to divert resources from the three R's and furthering our declining standards in English and Math(3). A more reasonable explanation for the declining of our educational standards rests mostly with our
policy makers, school administrators and teachers in not being able to understand the most basic need of our students: Learning
(4). The educational dilemma is not going back to the three R's or implement new technologies, but rather how to use new technologies to enhance the students capabilities to learn and be creative(5).
I wish to tell a story about how the playing with a computer helped my son James to overcome the structural deficiencies of the educational system. In January 1982, my family and I moved to Brooks, Alberta, from Regina, Saskatchewan, and James, then 6 year old, joined the local (English) school as a grade 1 student. James had always been an all around good boy, and in Regina he had previously attended a French immersion program for Kindergarten and the first semester of grade 1. In mid March 1982, we were notified by James' new school principal, that James was rebellious, he could not get along with his classmates, his English and Math skills were not at the same level as that of the other students, and that he would not pass grade 1. My wife Sharon was livid, and I was mad, I could not believe what I was hearing. James had always been a good, vivacious and curious boy, and now we were told otherwise. How did it happen? Why two months and half had to go by before we had to be notified of James' behaviour and failures?
We were told that James had to repeat grade 1, and within this educational environment there was no reassurance that James would pass grade 1 once he would repeat it. I am not going to digress about my communication with the principal, but my wife and I stated that we would not accept yet his decision that James should repeat the grade, and if there was no remedial teaching resource to assist James in overcoming his difficulties we would look after this matter. We privately provided James with a tutor, and at the same time we bought an Apple computer along with the math software "falling stars". James got along with his tutor, I played "falling star" with him, he began again to learn, he stopped being rebellious at school, and finally he passed grade 1.
School administrators and teachers were not able to understand that learning is an intrinsic need of every child and that children become rebellious only when they stop learning. Education should go back to the basics of what our children's needs are, that is to be healthy, to be intelligent, to be and feel essential in our ever changing society. These are the needs of our children, they are centred on learning and feeling good about it.
This story is certainly significant for James and myself, but it is also important in emphasising that the implementation of new technologies in education are meaningless unless they are used to address a specific need, the need to enhance learning, rather to enhance collective learning.
1. Reading & writing remain the basic fundamentals to a solid education, Editorial by Tom Dennis, Grand Forks Herald, Nov 28/97 http://www.gfherald.com/news/daily/1128/1128edit.htm

Wiring the classroom, By Stannie Holt, Infoworld, 1998. An excerpt of this paper "David Gelernter, Yale computer science professor and commentator, has called Vice President Al Gore's drive to get every U.S. public school hooked up to the Internet 'toxic quackery' because this diverts resources from the three R's and does not give students the skills and discipline they really need" http://www.infoworld.com/pageone/news/features/anniversary/98ann.classroom.shtml

3. The United States and Canada have been both experiencing a decline in their educational standards.

Need of Transformational Changes in Saskatchewan: The biological origin of cognition and implications for Education, by Mario deSantis, Sunday September 27,1998. Published in North Central Internet News

Thoughts on Education, Knowledge, Learning and the Internet, By Mario deSantis, January 23, 1999. Published in North Central Internet News