January 20, 2012

A New Age of Education

Apple yesterday released their latest creation yet: They reinvented the textbook--and possibly the educational system, for those that decide to adopt their vision. It is no surprise that education today is based on models that have been in existence since 1950, letting students go buy textbooks and write papers based on it's chapters is a model that will one: restrict the student's ability to being able to think creatively, two: prepare the student for a world that has already passed. The purpose of education, in my opinion is to arm the student with tools that give them the power to learn in their own unique ways and not restrict them to textbooks and paper writing. Everybody learns differently and some are slower to grasp concepts, so why make it boring and tedious?

With Apple introducing this new age of textbooks, it made me think about what it would have meant if the iPad was available when I was in elementary school, or even college for that matter. My primary and secondary education were all in Ghana, and succeeding in education in that country was based on something commonly known as "chew and pour, pass and forget". This basically meant memorizing an entire textbook to the point where one could reproduce answers, word-for-word as if they were copying directly from the textbook. This form of studying/learning made a lot of my peers successful in passing exams. I  even adopted it for a while when I didn't have enough time to prepare for a test--But it crippled the mind. The student didn't put his brain to work, memorizing lines of text and reproducing it on a piece of paper sounds more like something a machine would do--not a student. This form of learning translated to students going into the workplace and failing to add value to the business; they lacked critical or innovative thinking. However the blame is not on the student, it's how the system worked--and continues to work.
But we are in 2012 and long overdue for a new age of education. The kind education that doesn't even feel like education; but a lifestyle--a fun thing to do. With the iPad, this is possible in ways we could have never imagined. It allows education to become interactive, where students actually enjoy what they are studying. It makes learning and understanding easy because textbooks are embedded with videos, audio and animations that facilitate the learning process. Take a subject like biology for example, where a student is constantly learning about cells, bones, and organs--they need to be able to interact with this type of content to understand it better. They can't just rely on diagrams from a textbook to grasp the entire concept of how the human body works. They need to be able to move drawings around, rotate, zoom in/out, and annotate around the content. A paper textbook limits these capabilities in the world we live in today--the digital world. I studied biology back in high school, and the experience was definitely a challenge. I had to go by just one big textbook for the entire course. I had no videos or animations to assist my learning--no interaction with the content whatsoever, just the occasional biology lab visit that had sculptures of body parts. But which I couldn't take home with me for further study on my own time. If the iPad was available back then, with an interactive biology textbook I know it would have been much easier for me.

It's a no brainer now for schools to adopt the iPad and it's new interactive textbook-creation platform. It improves learning and makes it fun in the process. Teachers now have the power to build their own books and publish them to the iBook store--which is great, because instead of them giving out hand-outs (especially in college), students can download their "books" and receive updates; students would not have to keep on buying textbooks every year--content can be adapted in real-time!
We are on the cusp of a cultural revolution--in terms of how technology affects our world. It will be smart for schools and countries like Ghana, that have outdated educational systems to adopt the iPad and this new age of education to secure their future.

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