BEIRUT: For those children attending Lebanon’s prestigious academies, gone are the days when a back-to-school supplies list asked for only pencils, notebooks, folders and pencil pouches. This year, some parents can expect to purchase pretty pricey items as schools like the American Community School at Beirut and Eastwood College are now incorporating more technology in and outside the classroom than ever before.
For the great majority of Lebanese schools, however, technology is limited to computer class – if that – which begs the question: Should parents take it upon themselves to expose their children to technology? And with limited household budgets, what technology is worth the expense?
Those schools that consider themselves at the forefront of education have expanded the technology requirements for their returning students.
Eastwood, for example, has gone digital over the past two years. Students from grades five through 12 are required to have an iPad on which the school will download textbooks, handouts and multimedia resources for every class, said Michel Khoury, Eastwood’s principal and one of the biggest advocates in Lebanon for technology-aided learning.
And at ACS, high school-aged children will be required to come back with laptops after a successful pilot program last year. Laptops are also being integrated into middle school classes and there’s a tablet focus for the elementary-aged students, said Pilar Quezzaire, a former teacher at ACS who pushed the school to adopt more technology.
For Khoury, technology, particularly the Internet, allows students to learn in a way that better reflects the ever-changing nature of information.
For example, research changes what humans know about all topics, from outer space to design theories, on a daily basis. Rather than having students memorize information that’s simplified and outdated, Khoury promotes teaching a child how to research responsibly so that they can seek out accurate and up-to-date information independently. It’s a skill that will make them lifelong learners, he said.
“You have to teach integrity of information, that’s where teacher scrutiny comes into play,” he said.
Khoury’s views are not unique. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project came out with a study in 2012 titled “How Teens Do Research in a Digital World.”
Among other things, the study said 99 percent of teachers surveyed agreed that “the Internet enables students to access a wider range of resources than would otherwise be available.” And 65 percent agreed that “the Internet makes today’s students more self-sufficient researchers.”
The iPad-centered learning also works for different types of learners: readers, listeners, visual learners and memorizers.
“When I was in school, we were taught to memorize. The Brevet, the Bacc, if you’ve failed to memorize than you failed the whole year,” he said. “With e-learning, there’s a video with every section. ... It’s tailored to your style of learning.”
For preschoolers and elementary students, technology allows teachers and parents to track a child’s progress with needlepoint precision. Khoury demonstrated on his iPad how an early learning program records in real time as a child solves tailored lessons, giving parents a visual and audio archive of a child’s growth. It offers a way for teachers and parents to detect problem areas or talents early on, he said.
Khoury sees Eastwood’s program as the pioneer among Lebanese schools, an education system he and other teachers say has proved to be very resistant to technology in the classroom.
“In general Lebanese teachers are very resistant to technology,” said Quezzaire, another advocate for tech-aided learning who also knows the Lebanese education system well.
“In Lebanese public schools, technology is almost a nonissue.”
Granted, a single iPad costs somewhere around $700-800 in the country (a mini iPad costs $400), even notebook computers are upward of $500 and coveted Apple laptops are well over $1,000. But the two educators say costliness isn’t the only thing inhibiting schools from integrating technology. Teachers and administrators are stuck in traditional teaching methods.
A basic computer class, which explains word processing tools, saving a project and perhaps typing, is the standard for most private academies. For many teachers, longhand is still preferred for essays as well.
“You might have some students typing papers,” Quezzaire said.
When it comes to research, the majority of Lebanon’s schools expect students to rely on resources provided by the school, whether that means textbooks and handouts or a small library. Independent research and proper lessons on using the Internet effectively are quite rare, she said.
In addition to outspoken educators like Khoury and Quezzaire, parents have played a vital role in pushing Lebanese schools to adopt technology.
In fact, it was at the behest of parents, Khoury said, that the school felt obliged to expand their iPad program to younger and younger students. Now, all grade levels will have some degree of iPad exposure, the youngest being preschoolers who learn through the computer tablet twice a week.
Engaged parents can take it upon themselves to expand the education of their children by purchasing technology for their kids. Unsurprisingly, Khoury advocated iPads because of their closed source software resistant to things like viruses and malware.
There is a slew of learning applications, many of them free on the iTunes store. Books, many with interactive features, can be downloaded in all languages; and parents can easily monitor what programs children have access to.
“It’s the easiest thing to use. There’s only one button, and it’s the “Home” button, anyone from a 3-year-old kid to a 60-year-old grandpa can figure that out,” he said.
For lower budgets, Quezzaire recommended a quality smartphone with a camera. A teacher of social studies and history, among other topics, she said she’s used just about every kind of technology available to enhance her classes. Smartphones give children access to Lebanon’s 3G Internet to do research, camera functions to help with school projects, as well as applications for Android and iOS, voice recorders and other educational functions.
In all cases, both educators said, parental engagement is an absolute must, including monitoring a child’s access to social media, pornography, long hours playing games and potential cyberbullying.
“Especially with Lebanese parents, we’ve seen parents neglect their children,” Khoury said. “Be a well-informed parent. Be an engaged parent.
“Just like Martin Luther leveled the playing field with the printing press, suddenly information was accessible to everyone. Technology is accessible to everyone and with the Internet, in a split second you’ve become informed.”