Innovation – the buzzword of the 21st century. There is a lot of noise about what this means in education right now, and while some is meaningful, some is decisively not. How do parents navigate this fast-changing world in a way that really supports their children?
Joe Holroyd, IB Coordinator of Canadian International School of Hong Kong, suggests we should embrace technological innovation, but keep our eyes on our children’s needs as we do so.
When my school recently rebranded itself as The Innovative School of Hong Kong, we spent a good deal of time looking at different definitions of innovation, and working out which are meaningful for our students, our teachers, our mums and dads… our community.
Innovative educator George Cuoros’s thoughts were informative to us, in particular the idea that ‘The constant pursuit of serving our students and being flexible based on what they need, not what we are most comfortable with is something that we should always strive for. Even the smallest of innovations in education can be life-changing for a child.’
At my school, we have placed this concept of meeting human need at the heart of our definition – and vision – for innovation. And if as educators, in loco parentis, we need to be caring and child-centered in our engagement with technology – I would like to suggest that parents perhaps need to be even more so.
UNICEF’s study The State of The World’s Children 2017: Children in a Digital World suggests that – of course – tech, and in particular the online environment, poses great opportunities, and simultaneously great risks. UNICEF find that ‘excessive use of digital technology can contribute to childhood depression and anxiety. Conversely, children who struggle offline can sometimes develop friendships and receive social support online that they are not receiving elsewhere.’ Their emergent recommendation is therefore this: focus on the quality of engagement with screen time – ensure that your children are connected in intentional, meaningful ways, and that the iPad/smartphone/computer is not simply the default.
Here, we get perhaps to the heart of what technological innovation should mean for educators and parents the world over. If we go back to the original meaning of ‘technology’, it comes from the Greek word tekhnologia meaning the "systematic treatment of an art, craft, or technique,". Put simply – it is just a way of doing something. When we innovate with technology, we simply find a way of doing something meaningful better, more efficiently, or with different outcomes.
This of course relates back to Couros’s definition for innovation – is it providing new techniques for us to meet our student’s needs in a meaningful way? I would like to conclude by suggesting that it also perhaps relates to our own experiences in childhood, and the intuitive guidance those experiences offer us as parents. Were we able to gossip with our friends until the small hours of the morning on the phone? If not, and if we don’t believe that this is the healthy lifestyle that we wish to support in our own children, then it should be no different with the new technique for late night gossiping – i.e. social media. So, we may wish to consider a Wi-Fi shut-off time, or a mobile device curfew. Similar consideration may apply to this question: were we allowed to chat on the phone with our friends at mealtimes, or was this a time for mindful presence to family? Did our parents try to provide us with information about healthy active lifestyle choices – balancing healthy movement and exercise with nutritional information? In which case the new technique for supporting such choices – such as a fit-bit – may be something we wish to consider for our children.
In short: innovation and technology related challenges for parents have much in common with those for teachers – but as long as we are not dazzled by the novelty of new, and we keep our mindset flexible and needs-oriented, we will find the technology that supports us, and our children.