Gary North (www.garynorth.com), August 07, 2014
An article in the Atlantic reveals that public school districts across the country are beginning to let students bring laptops in the classroom. They are attempting to integrate online education and resources with classroom education.
This is a major breakthrough educationally. It is the beginning of the end of the public school system. Once the public schools admit that students can benefit from information that is provided from outside the school district, they are admitting that the brick-and-mortar approach of the public school system is no longer sufficient to maximize the educational experience of students.
The next step should be obvious: the replacement of specialized teachers by adults who are basically little more than babysitters. If a student can gain access to information on the Web, then there is virtually no limitation on the kinds of information the student can access. He can access videos. He can access the Khan Academy. He can access just about anything. The teacher is little more than a facilitator. Students can learn from each other as fast or faster with respect to what websites provide the best educational materials. The division of labor in the classroom is going to expose the teacher who is little more than a cheerleader.
We get back to Hayek’s 1945 essay on why the free market has more information available than any committee possesses. The information possessed by a classroom of middle school students is going to be greater than the information that the teacher has available. The students don’t have this information directly, but by means of the World Wide Web, they can access it. One student is going to find information; another student is going to find different kinds of information. The students even collaborate with each other.
The famous experiment in India known as the hole in the wall has proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that classroom teachers are supplementary. The students work as teams to get the information that they want. The best that the teacher can expect to do is to launch the students’ investigations by asking a handful of key questions. But this does not take somebody who has to be paid $60,000 a year for four months’ work. This can be done electronically. Or it can be done by a video of a highly successful teacher, which is on YouTube. This can be accessed free of charge by any student in the world. Salman Khan is made it clear what the future is. It takes only one good teacher to motivate 10,000,000 students.
The price of the equipment keeps dropping. The article shows that Google’s Chromebook is overcoming the iPad. It sells for at least $100 less. It is easier for students to use. Because the information is online, meaning in the cloud, if a student breaks his notebook or loses it, he can access everything on any other Chromebook.
In 10 years, students will be able to get a similar piece of equipment for half the cost of what it sells for today. That price will keep dropping. The lower the price goes, the more extensively the new technology will be introduced in the classroom. New teaching techniques will be developed that work effectively with students who use laptops and notebooks. As these teaching techniques spread, it will become obvious to school districts that the student-to-teacher ratios are way too low, meaning that the school budgets are way too high.
Public schools have begun to adopt what is known as the Common Core curriculum. This curriculum suffers from a major defect: one size doesn’t fit all. It is being sold to school districts and families on this basis: whether the student is academically oriented or vocationally oriented, the same curriculum will work equally well. This is obvious nonsense, and millions of parents are not buying into it. There is no question that the decentralization associated with the laptop and notebook education is going to undermine any Common Core standards, or any other common standards. One size doesn’t fit all, and students individually will discover ways of learning that work best for each of them.
At some point, parents will figure out what the students already know, namely, that all they really need to get their work done is an inexpensive laptop or notebook computer. The information is not dependent on what goes on in the classroom. At that point, the entire educational establishment is threatened with extinction. As soon as parents are told by the school districts and also by their children that most of the learning is taking place as a result of the online educational materials, then the school districts become the equivalent of partial day care centers. But the schools shut down in the summer. So, they cannot really function as day care operations. Yet that is ultimately all that they are, assuming that the bulk of the educational experience becomes dependent on the World Wide Web.
I think it is clear that, 20 years from now, the public school model will be radically different. It will be cheaper. It will not be dependent on the formal educational certification of classroom teachers. It will not be dependent on the teachers’ union.
When that day comes, diversity in education will become a reality. The public schools will not control the minds of children to the extent that they do today. Alternative worldviews, alternative teaching methods, and alternative approaches to just about everything will be available to students who own a laptop or notebook computer. That will be just about every student in the United States, and within a century, it will be true of virtually every student in the world.
The educational monopoly is going to be broken. Cheap computers are going to break it.