The impact of your teaching

Technology will not replace teachers, but teachers who can integrate technology effectively in their pedagogical practices will replace teachers who can’t.

The quote above has been repeated time and again (with different wording each time) in education conferences where the focus is technology in education – so much so that it’s hard to find the correct attribution to the original quote. But let’s face the facts, shall we? It’s now 2017 and there are two very distinct realities in the world today – those who are connected to the world wide web (the Internet), and those who aren’t. Life is not a bed of roses, and the fact that we have a natural tendency to share our victories and challenges amongst peers might actually make us blind to a couple of things that should most definitely be in our radar.

The Internet has made access to content a lot more democratic, which allows us to fight inequality fiercely. If one has a smartphone and a broadband connection, one has instant access to information, to the learning of new skills, to have a voice in the political world they’re inserted in, and even to start a business that can communicate with people all over the world. Yay! These should all be celebrated, for sure, but how does it work in reality? Have we, the ones with access to the Internet, who are actually writing blogs, recording videos, and reading information online, repeatedly made a conscientious effort to see that, perhaps, this little world we have entered is still making the divide bigger between the haves and have nots?

According to this report, despite the increase in usage of the Internet, the divide is actually getting bigger. There were about 4.4 billion people who were not online by the end of 2014, and 90% of those were in developing countries. We are well aware of the fact that the Internet can indeed make a huge impact in the lives and well being of people – some even claim that the Internet is a basic necessity in life these days and should be treated as importantly as access to clean water due to the impact it has on communication. Yours truly finds it extremely hard (and naïve and egotistical) to consider it as important as basic needs for survival (like water), but one cannot help but wonder how much our lives improve just because we have access to information about basic hygiene, crops and plantations, ways of looking after ourselves and what not. Information allows people to see their personal world differently – I’m not talking about changing the world here, but changing individual lives.

If you still haven’t seen the impact that the Internet can bring about, why not read the story of Ryan Hreljac? The fact that anyone can now act globally is a direct result of the Internet and it’s openness to all. But how much of it do we actually use to get our students to solve real problems in the world? Narrowing it down, how often do we set forth to teach our students how to make use of the tools available online to solve real problems outside their little realms of comfort in which learning a foreign language is a must, but they fail to grasp the brutal reality of what we still live as a species? When we talk about the impact that the Internet has in the world, do we go beyond the impact it may have on the lives of those people sitting in front of us? Do we get them to think critically about the importance of the well being of all in a society for it to thrive?

Three stages in the evolution towards an information society

Source: Measuring the Information Society Report 2014

It is very easy to bring the Internet to the classroom, and to claim that we make use of it in a creative and meaningful way to help our students change their lives. However, the impact that we can have in their lives can be a lot bigger. Being a teacher that is aware of technology and its impacts in teaching should go way further than simply helping those kids in front of you to master a couple of tools that will allow them to have an edge in life. The real change we can see is looking past this current trend of the Internet as a game changer for those who have access to it. It is about helping those who have access to the Internet to realise their world is a much larger place right now, and there can only be success if all prosper. The Internet allows us to solve real life problems all over the world. How much of it can we use in our classrooms? How much can we encourage our students to actually do? This is likely to the be the teacher who has already understood the real impact the Internet has in the world today – and this is the kind of teacher that the world is in dire need of. How much longer until we get there?

The truth is that if we turn the blind eye to this matter, we are only working towards making the divide bigger, making inequality more pervasive. And we haven’t even touched on the different ways that the Internet is used by teenagers who have access to the web but come from different backgrounds. Equal access alone is no guarantee of equal opportunities. But that you can read right here. For the time being, let’s just reflect on how much of an impact we can have on our students’ lives by opening their eyes to a world much bigger than their neighborhoods and the importance of taking an active role in changing such a reality.

Henrick Oprea

Henrick Oprea has been working in ELT since 1997. He's got a post-graduation degree from the University of Birmingham. He is the current president of BRAZ-TESOL. He currently works as a freelancer teacher trainer and educator. He believes that teachers are the ones who make the difference in any classroom, and this is why he is keen on sharing. He blogs about education and ELT at http://hoprea.wordpress.com, and you can also find him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, where he occasionally shares pictures of boards from his classes.

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