Digital devices are good learning tools

I REFER to the report “Allow gadgets into the classroom” (The Star, Aug 9).

The Education Minister has reportedly announced that students in about 10,000 schools in the country would be allowed to bring mobile devices such as laptops and tablets to class next year.

Strangely, mobile phones will still be prohibited. The rationale is that mobile phones would encourage students to chat in class.

The truth of the matter is that practically all of these electronic devices perform similar functions; the difference might be the size although mobile phones are growing in size to six inches and tablets are reducing to eight inches.

Basically, all these devices are useful learning tools to enhance learning in class. And the (smart)phone is the most mobile and convenient gadget of all.

In this digital era, electronic devices are being more widely used as teaching and learning tools in classrooms in Asian countries like Singapore, South Korea, China, Japan and India and in other parts of the world such as the United States, Europe and Britain.

In 1988/89 when I did my master’s programme at Universiti Malaya, my thesis was “Comparison between traditional learning and Computer-in-Education (CIE)”. The conclusion was that CIE was far more superior at improving learning outcomes and that improvements of grades increased across the board.

The Education Ministry is moving in the right direction to embrace digital learning. Surely, mobile technology would be a boost to classroom instruction compared to analogue teaching, traditionally known as chalk-and-talk.

The benefits of mobile technology are abundant. The immediate benefit is that the laptop, tablet or smartphone would address the problem of children carrying excessively heavy school bags to school. Many of the workbook materials can easily be stored in these devices or downloaded from the apps.

Furthermore, the digital apps are not only engaging but also educational for students of all age groups.

For instance, in my English class, I allow students to use the Dictionary app to look for the meaning of words and how they are used in sentences. During a pre-Reading Comprehension lesson, students are instructed to use Google search to look up the background of the reading passages.

Using e-devices motivates students to practise self-access learning alongside independent learning, and they do seem to respond well to the stimulus of mobile devices. They stay on the task, correct mistakes in real-time and, more importantly, are excited about learning.

However, the electronic devices can only stimulate real effective learning if a reliable Internet infrastructure is in place. Students would certainly be deeply disappointed if these devices only act as electronic books to replace workbooks or textbooks.

Furthermore, to get students from less-well-to-do families on board, particularly those from rural areas, the powers-that-be must ensure that everyone will be able to use the mobile electronic devices in school. The simplest solution would be to provide them free to the students.

Nonetheless, these electronic gadgets are not a silver bullet or panacea for all the learning outcomes. Realistically, competent and engaged teachers should use digital technology in classrooms to enhance the teaching and learning experience.



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