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Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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4.2 Virtual schools?

In all this discussion of change there is even radical talk that technological advances might replace teachers altogether with virtual schools, particularly in developing countries. Viewed through a traditional educational lens this sounds absurd, but wait, don’t leap to conclusions!

In developing countries there are projects that investigate the effects of teacherless environments. The rationale is that technology can provide a large-scale form of one-to-one teaching, and provide the necessary support in classrooms that often contain large numbers of children with only one teacher. In Malawi, for example, a classroom often has 90 children taught by only one teacher. So, can technology really transform the learning experiences of children in these developing countries?

Later this week you will see some encouraging evidence from a Malawi–Nottingham collaboration in which maths learning was demonstrably improved using digital devices.

Here is a taster of one of the main findings:

What was so incredible was that in both countries (Malawi and the UK) we saw the same gain. One week of working on the iPads for 30 minutes a day [equalled] three months of formal education. … We were amazed.

The children get immediate feedback on getting a question right. That’s really rewarding. And if they don’t get it right, they can’t progress. They have to get 10 out of 10 to pass and move on to the next one.

(Kelly, 2014)