A man once bought a new car. It was his first car. In the past he had used different modes of transport with varying degrees of success. He had a bicycle when he was younger. The bike was great, he could go most places he wanted to, and he loved the freedom. But soon he wanted to go further. He had a vision to see more things, and experience more places. One day as he was riding, he rode past a train station and decided to investigate. What a revelation! He could travel far greater distances than by bicycle alone, and could sit back and relax at the same time. Surely this was transport nirvana! 

It wasn’t long, however, before this new found freedom highlighted a lack of freedom. The train had to follow fixed rails, and if he wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t on the line, he was back to square one with the bicycle. If only there was a way he could travel without these limitations. Of course there is! He had seen it before once when he got off the train. A bus! Waiting at the station to take people to destinations away from the rigid structure of the train line. Perfection! Or so he thought. 

It was the middle of winter, on a particularly wet and cold day when he was standing at a bus-stop. Waiting… waiting… waiting… He lifted his gaze and focus to the opposite site of the road to see a ray of hope on a gloomy day. A car dealership. Flashy signs. Drive-away deals. Warmth. Flexibility. Freedom. The new car was his. All of his problems seemed to be solved in that instant. 

The honeymoon was great. He could go anywhere he wanted. See things never before imagined. Everything was going so well. 

Then one day it happened. The unthinkable. The car stopped working. Of course, at the worst possible time too. He was running late, the car had broken down, in the middle of nowhere. He was stranded. No bike, train, or bus anywhere nearby. His thoughts drifted back to “the good old days…”. “This never happened on a bus! The train always arrived at the destination. Even my bike was more reliable than this!” He resolved then and there that the car was far more trouble than it was worth, and that he would never use a car again. 

The man was stranded, without hope.

In March 2016, the departing headmaster of Sydney Grammar School, Dr John Vallance made international headlines when he described the “billions of dollars” spent by Australian schools (and government) on technology over the past seven years as a “scandalous waste of money”. In response, Sydney Grammar banned students from bringing laptops to school, claiming a lack of either measurable, or non-measurable benefits, and that technology is a distraction to old-school quality teaching. The Australian reported on Dr Vallance’s comments here: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/education/computers-in-class-a-scandalous-waste-sydney-grammar-head/news-story/b6de07e63157c98db9974cedd6daa503

This response seems to me, to be similar to our friend in the story above who decided to ditch his car at the first sign that it was not all that it was cracked up to be. But then there was a problem with our friend in the story wasn’t there? Did you pick it? He put his complete faith in technology (the motor car) to solve his problems. And when that technology let him down (as it inevitably will), he dropped it like a sack of hot potatoes. Since Dr Vallance made his comments there have been many responses made in the media from those who both support, and those who oppose this position. Without engaging in the whole debate, I would like to address some of the points raised in the context of our engagement with technology in Christian Education. 

Firstly, it is important that we consider carefully the place that technology has in improving the learning outcomes for our students. We should not use technology for its own sake, but where it can bring added value to the classroom environment. Perhaps we don’t always get this right – sometimes we might use technology too much, other times we might miss an opportunity presented by technology. We continue to look at a growing body of international research, and use that research to inform our practice. David Smith has co-authored “Digital Life Together – The Challenge of Technology for Christian Schools” which is highly recommended reading for Christian educators seeking to use digital technology in an authentic way.

It is our responsibility to help students learn how to discern when and how to effectively engage with digital technology, that they might live for God’s glory in all that they do.

Secondly, Dr Vallance is completely correct to emphasise the importance of the teacher in the classroom. Navigate Education wholeheartedly agrees that the teacher in the room is the single most important element in achieving good learning outcomes. However the reality is that this isn’t an either/or situation. We don’t need to choose exclusively between a good teacher, and using technology. Christian schools are blessed to have fantastic professional teachers who love and care for our students AND who are committed to using technology in a way that assists learning. 

Finally, many will focus on traditional measurements of learning, primarily the HSC examination in NSW and other “big ticket” tests in other states and countries, to evaluate the effectiveness of classroom technology. While there is certainly merit in this, and we ought not dismiss the importance of this measure, the mission of Christian Education is not only focused on academic results. The presence of digital technology is a reality that our students will now face for their entire lives. It is our responsibility to help them learn how to discern when and how to effectively engage with it, that they might live for God’s glory in all that they do. It is our hope that our students will graduate with the experience, discernment and self-control necessary to use God’s good gift of technology in a way that glorifies Him. 

The opening analogy of the man with a car, whilst imperfect, should cause us to think carefully about the implementation of any technology. The technicist, identified by the man with the car, will put his faith in technology to solve man’s problems. As Christians, we understand this to be folly, and guard against this kind of thinking in our own lives. At the same time, we ought to continue to unpack the awesome complexity in God’s creation, which includes digital technology, and educate our children to do this in an appropriate way. 

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