The omnipresence of technology in our world has changed the way students and educators function in schools. Due to the omnipresence of tech in our lives, and the seeming unstoppable development of said tech, the once local and national economies have become truly, genuinely, and unflinchingly global. This means American students are competing with a much larger and more competitive subsection of workers. It is no mystery, that for American students to be competitive in the global market, our schools must be updated, imbued with 21st century skills. We educators have been screaming for this change for decades.
Wagner claimed that schools had not changed in 40 years while the world had changed dramatically. He pushed even further writing, “our schools are not failing. Rather, they are obsolete—even the ones that score best on standardized tests” (p. xxi). Wagner insisted on what we educators have been saying for years: mastering the “Three R’s” was no longer sufficient for success. For him, there existed seven nonnegotiable survival skills. These skills included: critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks and leading by influence; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurialism; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information and curiosity and imagination. “Indeed, the Seven Survival Skills,” proclaimed Wagner, “are for future generations…the ‘new basic skills’ for work, learning, and citizenship in the twenty-first century” (2006, p. 42). And each of these invaluable skills is inextricably linked to the effective use of technology in our lives.
Though his seminal work has been a decade out of its package, little has changed for many American public schools on the tech front. It appears that the louder the prophets shout, the less willing or able our ability to hear them. And Wagner’s enticing message becomes nothing more than a whispering jeremiad amongst a sea of educational solutions. If informed, impassioned educators know that Wagner is right, why have we seen so little change?
The answer to improving America’s educational heritage through technology is simple, and perhaps a bit scandalous in its banality. Every teacher worth her salt knows that all the passion in the world gets your students nowhere without designated units, broken into bite-size lesson plans faithfully and rigorously implemented. So, what’s the point you ask? A foundational element of any effective school is its use of technology in the educational process. This utilization of current and developing technologies is identified in a school’s Technology Plan.
Though published in 2003, five years before Wagner’s work, Harvey Bennett’s Successful K-12 Technology Planning: Ten Essential Elements resonates with my suggestion above. Though he reminds us to keep our eyes on the prize: “What is important” asserts Bennett is not the mere introduction or injection of technology into the classroom, but the concern “is how the technology is integrated with the instructional program” (p. 22). He argues that to “ensure that technology dollars have an impact on students, staff and community, districts and schools must develop a thoughtful technology plan” (p. 22). Thus, the technology plan must dovetail with the district curriculum. Both schemas must ensure that students are using technology to deepen their understanding of the viable content. It is not a sexy solution to the problem of preparing our students today to be the workers of tomorrow, but it is an effective one.
By Patrick Dowsett
Bennett, H. (2003). Successful k-12 technology planning: Ten essential elements. Teacher Librarian, 31 (1), 22-25.
Wagner, T. (2008). The global achievement gap: why even our best schools don’t teach the new survival skills our children need—and what we can do about it. New York: Basic Books.