What parents need to know about technology in schools

By Andy Kano

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Aug. 5 2013 1:45 p.m. MDT

A young girl in a special education classroom reads a worksheet on synonyms uploaded by her teacher to an iPad provided by the school district at Adams Elementary School Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011 in Coon Rapids, Minn.

Jim Mone, Associated Press

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Public schools are failing our kids when it comes to technology. This is not anything new; people have been talking about it for years. But now is the time for someone to speak up about it, because some schools are starting to mask their inadequacies with gimmicky programs like, “Bring your iPad to school day,” and new policies like, “It’s OK to text in class now.”

Having technology in your hands does not make you good at technology. It is not enough for kids to simply bring an iPhone to school and think that we are preparing them for the future. More likely, we’re creating a new breed of champion "Angry Birds" players. And, even more likely, we’re just costing the parents a lot of money because they have to replace the phone every time their kid loses it.

Parents want to believe that their child is a genius if he or she can swipe the phone on and open up an app, but here’s the hard truth: The designers of smart phone applications purposely made the phones easy enough for a child to use. This means that your child might be able to swipe through the pictures on your phone but still be just an average kid.

(Side note: The designers of smart phones weren't targeting your small children. I mean, they didn't actually mean for the 2-year-old boy to open his dad's eBay app and win a bid on a car. That was actually a side-effect of trying to make the phone easier for the older generation of users who get intimidated by computers and new "contraptions.")

Preparing tech-savvy children for the future

The first thing we can do to prepare children for the future is stop saying that there aren’t any jobs out there. As of this writing, CBS just reported that unemployment was up in 90 percent of U.S. cities. The creators of DropBox, for example, said their biggest hurdle in expanding the company was finding enough developers to hire — and that is not an uncommon problem in Silicon Valley or elsewhere.

Secondly, we have to recognize that our kids need to be able to do more than just buy apps and use them. They need to create them. Schools should focus on programming applications and solving complex problems.

But here’s the problem with public schools: They don’t pay teachers enough for people with programming experience to go back and teach the kids. As a result, good programmers go and get high-paying jobs elsewhere, and your kid has to learn HTML from the wrestling coach.

I once helped a man and his daughter with her "web programming" class last year and her teacher was still teaching the kids to use HTML tags that had long since been retired. In other words, they were learning things they shouldn't even use.

This is not the fault of teachers; they are doing their best. But, we have to teach what we know. And the people who know programming are rarely landing in front of students at public elementary, middle and high schools.

Luckily, there are people out there who get it. We have seen developers and entrepreneurs from all technological arenas band together and endorse the teaching of programming in schools. (Check out a great YouTube video with Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg called "What most schools don't teach.") We have also seen the emergence of so-called "hacker schools" that focus solely on programming to help kids and adults get jobs. These schools are great, but can also be expensive.

Intimidated yet? Well, it might help to know that there are tons of free resources online. Here are a few:

The Khan Academy: a great learning and mentoring organization that offers free courses online, including excellent courses in math and computer science.

w3schools: This site provides documentation and tutorials for building websites in all web development technologies.

StackOverflow: If you ever Google a question about programming, then there is a very good chance that you’ll end up here anyway.

MSDN: Microsoft’s developer network has tons of tutorials and allows you to download the source code in most cases.

MIT OpenCourseWare: This is a compilation of lectures, homework and tests from real MIT classes. You could save yourselves thousands of dollars in tuition and send your kids here for college

And there are countless other online resources. Do you know of any others? Put them in the comments and share with other readers.

Parents cannot rely on public schools to give their kids the education they need when it comes to technology. While there are apps for phones and tablets that can definitely aid in teaching your kids at school, our kids’ future depends on more than just using apps. They have to learn how to build them.

Andy is a computer programmer with an interest in sports, technology, movies, and a newly found passion for blogging. You can read more of his articles at www.andykano.com

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