Technology as a solution

Last week, a friend called me and lamented: “We all want to have a better education for our children. In the past, we have missed many opportunities, but I am worried we will miss more in the future if there is no action to improve the education system to meet our society’s needs. We know that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) are essential for the fourth industrial revolution, but so far, there are a lot of talks but not much action.”

I told him: “STEM education is critical, but it would require significant investment in teachers’ training and could take many years to implement. You cannot have an adequate STEM education without skilled teachers. But it would take many years to train new teachers and improve the training program, by that time an entire generation of the student may be left out. I think the practical way is to develop more online classes focus on specific technology skills, similar to the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in the U.S. so that whoever wants to learn could learn these skills quickly to develop their career accordingly. Today we have many students who go to school without any direction, without goals, but only want a degree. Eventually, they have a degree, but without skills, many end up in the unemployment lines. We also have students who want to learn but could not go to college because either their family cannot afford to pay for their education or they did not pass the exam that allows them to go to college. However, if they want to learn the needed skills, especially in technology, we should provide them with the opportunities because today many companies are hiring workers based on qualifications, not degree.”

Image: Wikimedia Commons

He asked: “Why focus on technology? What’s about Science, Engineering, and Math?

I explained: “You need all of them for the long-term improvement. STEM education is essential for the future economy, but currently, technology may be the best way to improve the economy because other changes may take too long to implement. For example, we do not have enough skilled teachers in technology for all schools, but a technology teacher who teaches an online course can have hundred or even more students. If we develop several programming online courses, we could train thousands of programmers in a short time for the job market.”

He hesitated: “This might seem like a dream by a professor …”

I explained: “But it could be a reality. Having a few teachers to develop online courses is not difficult. As long as students want to learn, we should provide them with the opportunity so they can be productive. There are endless possibilities to apply technology to solve the education problems. Today many people have a laptop, tablet, and smartphone and they can access to these online courses. Even people who live in remote villages could have the same training as people in the big city. Having a high number of skilled workers to work could accelerate the economic improvement.”

My friend did not feel comfortable: “It is easy for you to say but may not easy to implement.”

I told him: “It is possible, other countries already did exactly that. The Indian government provided the Akash tablets to thousands of children in their schools so they can learn programming skills. Uruguay, Equador, and Chile started a similar project in 2008 by giving laptops to all elementary schools so their students can get a fundamental education, even in remote areas where there are not enough teachers, Today a majority of children in Chile, Equador, Uruguay are writing code and creating mobile apps. This could happen in other countries too.”

My friend seemed surprised: “Are you advocating that children learn computer programming?”

I told him: “Today programming has become an essential skill, similar to reading, writing, and arithmetic. Sooner or later, every student must learn how to write code. What I think is in order to change the education system, we need something that can disrupt it, and technology is a force for disruption. I think online courses can disrupt traditional classrooms; Online schools can change the traditional schools, and online teaching methods such as “learning by doing” can disrupt the traditional lecturing method. We know that technology changes everything, impacts everything, so we could take advantage of technology, to improve the education system. I think the same advances that help developed countries to innovate can also be used in others countries too. We need a quick solution for the current issue of providing skills training to students who need a job so they can be productive and contribute to the society. There is a shortage of skilled workers all over the world so why not train them on the skills that are needed so they can get a job now? It may not be the best solution; it may not be a long-term solution, it may not solve all problems, but it could help students who could not afford four more years of college. My question is the solution exist but do you want to seize it or continue to miss another opportunity?”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University