Edutech is one of the biggest trends in technology today. It has become immensely popular among parents and students due to its ability to make Science, Maths, English and several other subjects easy to understand.
Last week however, i had to change my opinion about Edutech. My 12 year old son came crying to me saying he would never use Mindspark again because he was losing points. Confused at first, i realised he was talking about his points that were displayed on screen among the rankings of participating students based on the number of correct problems they solved. I managed to pacify him saying he would do better, but it got me thinking. When the earlier generation used to solve problems, we just had a book (neither internet nor Edutech) with questions and answers. We would try to solve the problem and check the answer. If the answer matched we would be happy and if it didnt, we would attack the problem again. This process would repeat until we found a different approach to solving the problem. But we never got depressed or disappointed, in fact we took it as a challenge. Very few students today know the satisfaction of attempting a problem several times and solving it finally ! This experience teaches us never to give up in life. Edutech companies, in the process of incentivising students to solve problems through gamification, are actually curbing the problem solving capabilities in students. Instead of thinking about approaching the problem from a different angle, students are thinking about points. So if they selected the wrong answer they would lose points. The whole idea of making mistakes, learning from the mistakes and solving the problem with a different approach is not being encouraged. What can be done to make students understand that it is ok to select the wrong answer? We need to let them know that it is important to learn from mistakes and approach the problem again. Does Edutech have an answer to the challenges of making students effective problem solvers?
The next challenge we will talk about is competitive examinations. The number of students attempting these examinations has increased so much that it has become impossible to crack these exams without enrolling in institutes specialising in these exams. This includes all the areas such as Engineering, Medical, MBA, Statistics etc. So what do students learn at these institutes? They learn how to crack the exam. The institute hires coaches who do the difficult job of predicting the exam pattern every year and give all possible combinations of questions and their answers to enrolled students. So these students are spoon fed with all the possibilities. Contrast this to the students from the earlier generation who attempted these exams.Though they never enrolled for these extra classes they did what the coaches do today. They understood that the real exam pattern would be unpredictable and were prepared for the unexpected. So they adapted themselves to uncertain situations. This helped them in the exam and in life.
These two key themes – Problem Solving and Adaptability can never be taught by Edutech and Coaching Institutes. Real problems require these skills which can be learnt only by doing and failing. Thankfully, technology again has the answer.
Today there are thousands of youtube videos which demonstrate simple steps and instructions to make anything from a simple solar fan to a remote controlled car or a robot. Though the steps look deceptively easy, they arent. Ask your kids to pick an interesting project and follow through the steps. They will realise the challenges at every step but will enjoy every moment of it. When they enjoy the process, challenges become an inspiration, a driver and motivator to go to the next step. Now points dont matter because the bigger goal is to complete the project and build the car or robot. When they have finished the project they will realise and cherish the moments where they failed, but tried a different approach, failed again and finally got it right. These projects give them the requisite problem solving and adaptability skills without which students cannot embark on a successful career, however well they have done in their exams. We need to remember, Edutech and examinations are the means, not the goal.
Having a successful career is much more unpredictable than an exam and that requires a mindset based on problem solving and adaptability.
What we learn from these experiences is that different technologies have different limitations. As parents we need to understand how to use these different technologies, each with their pros and cons, for the benefit of our children and make them well-rounded to handle the challenges of the real world.