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Defenseless, Schools are Succumbing to the EdTech Blitz - Our children are the causalities

Posted By: Deron Marvin on November 30, 2020

By Deron Marvin
A resident of Portland, Oregon, Mr. Marvin is currently, an alum of TC, is a Head of School at an international school in China serving expatriates from the US and Canada. He has worked for over 20 years with American international and independent schools, overseas and stateside. He is a regular speaker and writer in the field of educational leadership and the sociology of education.

The first ones came in early February of this year. By March, any principal or head of school’s email inbox would have been peppered with them. The conciliatory messages were offers to lend a hand to schools in their time of crisis. Many of the messages contained advancements of free trials, or discounted prices. We have you covered, don’t worry! With famished frenzy, as school campuses closed by the thousands, educators desperately responded to the demand to ensure that learning would plod along, undeterred. The pandemic kicked school doors wide open allowing online learning companies (referred hereafter as EdTech) to colonize the capacious halls with bravado, spreading their imperialistic sovereignty over the education of our students.

It was perfect timing considering EdTech has repeatedly asserted that a physical campus is moot when it comes to educating children and young adults. They ignore the fact that the service of education is positively a multi-dimensional affair that transcends algorithmic exchanges among learners, teachers, and computers.

For an optimal learning environment, it is accepted and acknowledged that the education of students happen in a physical place and housing the necessary resources. Moreover, students attending schools develop meaningful relationships with teachers, learn from classmates, play sports, sing in choirs, build things, experience failures, comport themselves in front of others, face fears, listen while interpreting speakers’ facial expressions, use their hands to manipulate tangible resources, navigate complex organizational institutions, speak in front of audiences, accept differences, react to the emotions of others, and encounter extemporaneous interactions, but this is not an exhaustive list of the legions of interplays that all happen in-person on a school’s campus with other human beings from diverse backgrounds, values, and racial identities.

When a school campus shuts, those vital interchanges and accords vanish; accordingly, stripping students of the framework needed for a successful educational journey. EdTech companies would like people to think education does not require all of those superfluities. For them, education is not a journey but a confined experience largely scripted and denuded to its most rudimentary form. Said curriculum is dispatched to said student. More clearly defined, EdTech takes an intricate ecosystem, pulverizes it, and then repackages the exchange of teaching and learning into the most economical and efficient method possible - they are transactional exchanges, which subjugates the indispensable relational exchanges required for successful learning.

These online learning platforms are earnestly polished to a glint, mesmerizing some school leaders to recognize EdTech to be the savior of our long held pursuit for answers to our educational quagmires. It is easy to swallow this Kool-Aid, particularly now when schools are under attack to keep the learning going. What choice do they have? At this juncture, educators lack the ability to parry the onslaught of EdTech’s cadre of surrogate educationalists. It is an intractable force where many have simply surrendered. Over the last decade, educators and students have witnessed an upsurge of online learning platforms. EdTech has elbowed their way between vital student: teacher relationships. Those reciprocations needed for successful outcomes of teaching and learning now have EdTech to contend with as its intermediary, settled firmly like a broker calling the shots - though in this case, the broker has a sole interest to profit from their own products.

From the birth of education in the United States to the present moment, the purpose of this lofty enterprise has morphed from a collective endeavor (with a devotion to the common good) to an adoption of individualism and neoliberal principles. This steadfast ratification to these present ideals coupled with the rapid advancement in digital technologies has stimulated EdTech’s incursion to intensify; thus, inspiring school leaders and EdTech companies to become apt bed fellows, and they are even cozier now that their co-dependence has escalated. Both are contingent on maintaining their alignment with what is now the purpose of schooling - for our young citizens to get ahead. This principle reduces education to a decidedly individual campaign. Individualism does not only induce excessive competition and a, what’s in it for me? mindset, it also leads to an obsession with learning that is outcome based only, or in other words, education as a means to an end. And with the onset of the pandemic and school closures, students are now, more than ever, “consuming” their learning in the privacy and isolation of their own homes, often with little to no face-to-face interactions, simply to get to that aforementioned, end.

EdTech would argue that “traditional” teaching and learning methods are antiquated and only heretics would still be teaching in front of a class. Those known and effective in-person teaching methods are now essentially vilified by futurists, EdTech gurus, and Ted-talking charlatans. Their doctrine is disguised as a desire to reinvent schooling for the betterment of society. In their minds the future of school is where knowledge is repudiated and blind creativity, heavy use of online learning, and an unteachable entrepreneurial spirit are compulsory to subsist in the fast moving world, which is conclusively dictated by those same admonishing neoliberal titans. In their minds, if a student does not employ or possess these consummate conditions, they will be woefully left behind. EdTech’s lure is channeled with an implicit mantra taken from historical and cultural pretenses - it is our innovative spirit, our westward-ho! pomposity, and our “just do it” attitude that arouses an inner compulsion to bulldoze through the weak and shove others aside to claim our rightful duty as an “educated” American. To win, all you need to do is acquire an education - no human interaction necessary.

Amidst this pandemic there is a cadre of educators and EdTech harbingers preaching to take advantage of this seismic divergence to redefine the narrative. Their idea is to “catch-up” to the 21st century by implanting even more technology into our children’s lives despite the research stating computers and online learning has a slight to negligible impact on learning. If we do not resist this sea change, before long, to get that education, all it will take is for one to own a device and to have the financial means to pay for transactional exchanges over a designated amount of time. Education will become an act of manipulating buttons, swiping and looking at screens to grab learning where it may conveniently be obtained. It will happen in the safe confines of one’s private domain where we are separated from one another. There will be no need for others in this exchange; our teachers will be the computers, which is really just a proxy - a machine preprogrammed to deliver learning - analogous to charging your electric vehicle.

This is not an anti-tech admonitory manifesto; rather, it is a cautionary message to point out who is aligned to control the environs and the delivery of student learning. We should be extremely skeptical of EdTech’s strategic aspirations and visions for our children. About the only value of EdTech I see is limited to supporting a modicum of learning through a temporary crisis. When children can go back to school campuses the first order of the day should be to severe ties with online learning and re-introduce themselves to their teachers and peers, and then resume their learning journeys, together.

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 Defenseless, Schools are Succumbing to the EdTech Blitz - Our children are the causalities by Deron Marvin on November 30, 2020
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