Editorial: Before digital was cool

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Rowan-Salisbury Schools got important kudos Monday from Catherine Truitt, Gov. Pat McCrory’s top education adviser. When it comes to digital learning, Truitt said, North Carolina is a national leader, and Rowan County is a leader in the state.

Visiting Salisbury at the school system’s invitation, Truitt addressed a luncheon group of community leaders to talk about the challenges facing public education today. They are many.

The digital conversion that drew skepticism a few years ago — from experienced educators and parents alike — has turned out to be a wise move for Rowan-Salisbury schools. The sudden transition was painful, and hitting the right balance of screen time and face time is a challenge. But digital learning is essential if the schools are to personalize learning to reach each and every child, Truitt said.

You might say Rowan-Salisbury went digital before digital was cool — or at least before it was required. Now everyone is moving in that direction.

Since joining the McCrory administration last October, Truitt has visited more than 30 schools that have adopted digital-age learning. In 18 years as an educator and turnaround coach, she said, she’s never seen anything that promises to improve teaching and learning that compares with the use of digital devices she has seen in places like Greene, Rutherford, Davie and Rowan counties.

She described seeing a child at Hanford Dole Elementary School use her iPad to read a QR code that then enabled the girl to download a story tailored to her abilities and progress. This kind of innovation allows a teacher to do small-group instruction while other students are learning individually on their own, she said. 

That is the future of education — more  technology and more personalization and humanization, trends that might seem at odds but now go hand-in-hand, Truitt said. Using technology as a tool, teachers can reach students where they are.

For more than century, U.S. schools have treated education as an assembly line, with students expected to move in lockstep through the same subjects that were developed by education experts in the 19th century. So much has changed. Now robots do the low-skill jobs, and to get the higher-skill jobs a person has to have some kind of post-secondary training, she said.

Our thinking about education has to get out of the assembly line era, too. If you start to criticize education methods with “when I was in school,” stop yourself. When you were in school, did virtually everyone carry a smartphone? Was the internet in existence? Did your classmates represent a broad spectrum of ethnicities,  abilities and interests? Were some of them homeless? Probably not. For good or ill, it’s a different world out there. To prepare children to survive and thrive, they have to be taught differently, too.