Much has been written regarding the debate about the value of technology in the classroom, and whether our school systems are keeping pace with technological advances and adapting educational processes to these advantages. I would argue that given the pace of the technological evolution of the past few decades, the debate over the application of technological development in the classroom overshadows a much more fundamental issue: how do we teach children of all ages to think?
According to a 2010 Fortune article, the human brain has approximately 100 billion neurons. Although not precisely an apples-to-apples comparison, an iPod contains more than 256 billion transistors, the tiny device that provides the computing power to support its capabilities. When one considers that just 33 years ago I would have been more than a trendsetter with the first Sony Walkman cassette player attached to my belt, or the first MP3 player slightly more than a decade ago, it becomes clear that keeping up with technology, particularly in the classroom, is next to impossible.
Today, it is highly likely, even in extraordinarily well-funded and advanced school systems, that the students have more technology in their backpacks than the classroom can hope to have. So, given this reality, what is the real challenge in an educational system that can never hope to have the latest and greatest gadgets?
I believe the challenge is to ensure that the generations of future business leaders understand how to think. Technology is a tool. Just as our ancestors moved from hunting and gathering to farming to manufacturing, and adapted to all the technology that enabled this evolution, so we must train the leaders of tomorrow to adapt by focusing on the thinking behind the tools that drive today’s business world.
The web, computer, and iPad are tools. How to use those tools is the critical challenge. But more than teaching which button the student must push to get the answer, it is incumbent on the educational system to teach the why and what for in seeking an answer in the first place.
In a fast-paced business environment, the tools of technology cannot replace a reasoned understanding of the environment, history, culture, and opportunities involved in responding to business challenges. Successful business people understand the importance of how to ask the question, respond to a business challenge, and then harness the power of technology to reach a decision point.
While it is important for schools to teach technology, they must harness the 100 billion neurons in the student’s head, to think, ask, wonder, and create. Technology is ever-changing, but it is limited by its inherent “dumbness.” The human mind is only limited by its infinite capacity for wonder and amazement, and I believe that our educational system needs to promote the development of this muscle, and imbue in students the recognition that just as the machine aided manual labor, technology aids the mental labor of our increasingly information society and business culture.