GEORGE AUSTIN

I am currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of South Carolina. In the past 15 years, I have served as a teacher, professor, and administrator on the elementary, middle, and college levels. Before working in education, I earned a college degree in electrical engineering.

This combination of experiences has given me a unique perspective on technology that I think would benefit parents. While I must commend teachers on the wonderful job they have done teaching during the pandemic, I also must point out the short sightedness of some in leadership.

If your child attends school outside of Greenville County, Greenwood District 50, or Lexington District 1, you may want to pay close attention to what I have to say. The aforementioned school districts are the standard bearers for the state of South Carolina in terms of using technology to drive instruction. As a result, the graduates from these areas are better prepared for life in the 21st century.

When Covid-19 shut our schools down, it also exposed some educational leaders in South Carolina. Far too many leaders outside of Lexington, Greenwood, and Greenville began with a steady chorus of excuses. “We don’t know, what we don’t know” some quipped. Others lamented “there was no way to anticipate Covid-19”. Still others found themselves “surprised” that many students found “e learning” appealing.

We recognize that principals, superintendents, and school board members are not medical doctors. There is no expectation that they could have anticipated schools shutting down due to Covid-19. However for the past 20 years we have lived in a world that relies heavily on computers, cell phones, and the internet.

As such, it is the educator’s responsibility to prepare students to live in this world. Therefore in light of all the current innovations that we enjoy, to have some leaders state they could not anticipate a time when schools would have to rely heavily on “e learning”, leads to only one conclusion. They simply have not been paying attention. Or as some of my students would say “They got caught slippin”!

Take into account the impact that modern innovation has had on the way society conducts business. Several major companies have adopted three day work weeks, while others allow employees to work from home altogether.

Higher education has also embraced innovation. Colleges offer traditional classes in addition to “blended” and “on-line” courses. These options provide students with choices and flexibility that were impossible 20 years ago.

Now think about the relationship between children and video games. Thanks to the internet and other tools, children are collaborating, strategizing, and communicating on a level that far exceeds anything they are required to do in a traditional classroom or through “e learning”.

Children are recording instructional videos in real time and then editing the video. Often during the editing process they are adding narration and effects to these videos. Finally, they are making the videos available to anyone worldwide by posting them to sites such as “You Tube”.

While educational leaders are busy trying to figure things out, students are beating them at their own game!

A few days before school was dismissed for the pandemic, I went into Ms. Pryor’s science class at Brewer Middle School in Greenwood 50. The students were excited to show me the solar system project they were working on. They had created a touchscreen map of the solar system.

Working in groups, the students drew maps of the solar system. They then wired the map to a computer before finally programming the computer. Once this set up was complete, users could gather valuable information about the solar system. When users touch a planet on the map, a student’s voice begins providing information about the planet.

Imagine how valuable these students will be once they enter the job market. They have acquired programming, wiring, and planning skills that they can put into action today.

Now is the perfect opportunity to reconstruct education for the better. Educators can no longer afford to ignore innovative ideas because they are complicated or challenging. The current model of preparing students for life after school is broken.

Without the benefit of advanced training, children have developed technological skills that surpass those of the adults who are charged with educating them. Covid-19 exposed public education’s weakness. Going forward, community members must begin to hold school board members and educational leaders to a higher standard or else children will continue to suffer.