Saturday, February 14, 2009

Digital Divide in Schools

Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM) will launch its first Digital Nation seminar of 2009 on Monday 23 February at the Grand Hyatt Hotel and the topic of discussion is Technology, Education and the Youth.

“We believe a new type of digital divide is fast developing in Omani society. This is the division between the parallel worlds of learning at home and learning in the classroom,” suggests Mohammed Al Maskari, KOM’s Director General.

According to the KOM Director General, rows of students sitting in front of a whiteboard is outmoded for teaching and learning in the 21st century. Without cutting-edge technology, the classroom is out of touch with its students and is unable to adequately prepare them for their futures.

Technology is a prerequisite for teaching and learning in today's schools. In its absence, schools are failing to make the most of their most valuable resource: the experience, skills and interests of their own students. “The complex and more important challenge facing us is not putting technology into schools, it’s about bringing the golden nuggets of out-of-school learning, into the classroom. Today, the majority of young people use new media as tools to make their lives easier and strengthening their existing friendship networks. And that almost all are now involved in creative production, from uploading to editing photos to building and maintaining websites,” says Ibtisam Al Faruji, KOM’s Marketing Director.

It is vital that the Omani classroom does not ignore and alienate these sophisticated learners, but incorporates the positive aspects of individuals' private experience with technology into the more formal learning process.

Unfortunately, the current generation of decision-makers, from teachers and parents to civil servants, are all at a serious disadvantage. “We see the world from a very different perspective to the new generation, which doesn’t recall a time without the instant answers of the Internet or the immediate communication of mobile phones,” says Al Maskari. Yet, it is these decision-makers who will shape the way that technology is used in the Omani classroom. There needs to be a realization that to bridge the divide between formal and informal learning between home and school, decision-makers will have to develop strategies with the active involvement of students. “This is why we’ve put education, technology and the youth on this year’s Digital Nation agenda. It’s an incredibly important issue and one that needs to be discussed,” adds Al Maskari.

Working in collaboration with young people is the only way to find solutions that are in tune with reality. We should not miss out on the valuable resource that this generation provides us with - their experience, skills and interest. “Indeed, we must recognize the potential technology has to transform learning and to enable both the teacher and student. We need to accept the rapid change in behaviour that technology has brought, to embrace it and use it to foster and encourage a stronger and more vibrant learning environment,” remarks Al Maskari.

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