Teacher training or ICT in education?

I know it is not always an “either or” issue. But I thought that I should revisit this issue of what is more important between the two after reading this article especially after reading the comments by readers that followed it. The article was reporting on ICT trends in education for the year 2010 (is that enough for a trend?).

Singapore Educational Consultants ICT in EducationI am not talking about an ideal scenario where schools have well-trained teachers and lots of funds for ICT purchases. It is rarely like that. Even in a rich country like Singapore with its massive MasterPlan for IT in Education (MPITE) didn’t escape this problem. When I was with the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Singapore as part of the team pushing MPITE, I knew that the teachers in general were not quite ready to use ICT in education. And mind you, these were trained teachers.

I am not against the use of ICT in education. But I think ICT in education, especially its use in the classroom, must be accompanied or even preceded by good teaching strategies and good instruction. Too often in my experience with teachers, I have found that they were unable to make a successful transition to the use of ICT for teaching and learning. This was because they needed to make a few changes before they can successfully use ICT in the classroom.

To make that transition more successful and less foreboding for the teachers, there is a need for teachers to first change perhaps the way they teach. Cooperative learning methods and a shift away from the traditional frontal teaching is a pre-requisite. There are others but I think these two are essential.

Among the most important purpose of using ICT in the classroom is the opportunity for students to explore and collaborate. If the use of ICT does not reflect these, then I think the use of ICT in the classroom is severely curtailed. In order to do these, teachers must undergo a paradigm shift in the way they teach. They must be willing to take a more “hands off” approach. They will have to design meaningful learning activities that involve collaboration. There is no point in having 21st Century tools and yet teach as if it is a 19th Century classroom. At the other extreme, you may have teachers who enjoy using ICT so much that they lose sight of the learning goals.

Schools would do well to invest more in teacher training and development to make this paradigm shift among teachers. Of course, there is also a need to change the syllabus and move away from traditional written high stakes examinations but that is another story. If schools move into ICT in education without these changes, they will find their teachers teaching ineffectively in an old mode in a high tech environment or having lots of classroom activities involving the use of of ICT but with little learning done.

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