George Lucas Educational Foundation

Do you think fewer kids would drop out of high school if technology was used?

Do you think fewer kids would drop out of high school if technology was used?

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Came across this inspiring response on Facebook from a friend and educator, Shelly Terrell. Thought this might inspire others. How would you answer this question? Do you agree with Shelly's response?

Big thanks to Shelly (@ShellTerrell) for letting us post this.

"I was interviewed by an 8th grader today. Tough questions. Hope I make an impact. I felt 8th grade is a good time to be real. Here's one question I answered.

4) Do you think less kids would drop out of high school if technology was used?

Technology isn’t a cure all and definitely not for teens dropping out. What is more crucial is the relationship between the school, community, teachers, parents, and students. We all have something within us that makes us “tick.” We all have a purpose, interests, curiosities, and passion. Some of us are blessed to know this as soon as we are born or at a young age and we have family and friends who support us from the beginning. Most of us, however, take awhile to find what it is that makes us “tick.” Sometimes, when we do make this discovery we have already heard so many negative messages or had negative seeds planted in us that we don’t believe that dream is possible, but some form of it is always possible. The problem is that schools tend to be part of the negative messages versus being part of the student’s process of finding how to make that dream possible. Standardized testing that doesn’t teach any form of valuable learning adds to this problem. Students see they have low scores and are punished for them and they believe they are not smart enough.

Students who drop out of high school do so because they are not supported in finding what makes them “tick.” They find that school does not match their passions, interests, and experience. They don’t make a connection with what they are learning. They don’t feel excited about learning. Technology could make them excited and gives them the opportunity to learn in spite of school. Any student who gets a negative message from the school or teachers can decide to learn via technology. For example, if the student wants to be a chef, they can join online chef communities, learn recipes through Youtube, tweet famous chefs, join a cooking open online course, etc. When applying to the culinary academies the student shows all the online learning and projects they were involved in. They show their self-directed learning and colleges are impressed by this. It’s above and beyond and shows passion for a subject.

I encourage learners to get a high school diploma. It’s important and will make life very difficult without one. However, if you do not find the support you need then be brave enough to also learn outside the school and pursue that dream. Life is already difficult and it’s shorter than you think. You might as well go after your dreams because some day they find you and when they do you will understand what it is to truly live."

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Becky Fisher's picture
Becky Fisher
Education Consultant

I totally agree that technology isn't necessarily the cure, though it can't hurt to engage students in learning that they are excited about. However, I don't feel that it is necessary and there is no actual research that correlates technology and high school drop out rates.

I think Shelly has made a very important point about a student wanting to be a chef. Technology may help them connect to this, but schools really should be doing a better job connecting students with their passions. Students in high school should be comfortable pursuing their interests and potential career paths, despite whether or not it is the "normal" path. If students want to be a chef, a dancer, a cartoonist, a craftsman, or take any other non-traditional path, schools should have a way to support this. Whether it's hooking them up with a mentor through The Future Project or some other source, or helping them enroll in courses that better fit their interests. Schools need to connect with High School students and not think of technology or any other tool as a band aid.

I hope this post does not sound anti-tech, because I am completely pro-tech integration. I think it's an important tool for learning and for getting students ready with 21st-century learning. I just don't see it as a solution to drop-out rates.

john ranta's picture

I think fewer (not less) students would drop out if fewer (not less) teachers used the words "fewer" and "less" appropriately. So maddening to see....

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Teaching Middle School 'Technology, Engineering & Design' in Northfield, NJ

As the parent of a high school senior, I can say that our district's embracing of technology (particularly the use of mobile devices) has increased student engagement and comfort levels on campus. The issue I have with this post however is that GREAT TEACHING (not necessarily the use of technology) is what inspires kids and keeps them in the game. I know that the teachers making an impact in my daughter's life are not the ones using technology to the fullest; they are the ones whose lessons, dialogue and discourse transform her classes into mind-bending experiences. While I do agree that the use of technology would allow students to connect with the outside world and fuel a passion, I think it's much more important that teachers be passionate, articulate and demanding in the classroom.

All that said, my hunch is (since I don't teach in an inner-city environment) that the kids most at risk of dropping out face pressures outside school can be too great to overcome. (That's where a great teacher is most invaluable, too.)


Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I love what Chris Lehmann said at one point- technology should be like oxygen- ubiquitous and useable when needed. That sounds like asking a lot, but compared to papyrus, paper and pencils are amazing technology as well. In the end it's not about the technology, it's about the communication of ideas and collaboration - tech just let's us do this in faster ways, less time and space anchored ways- than ever before. It opens up possibilities that just were'nt even within the realm of dreams when I was in school.

The problem currently is that tech is getting to be ubiquitous in the outside world- you can even use ipads as cash registers- so when a kid enters the schoolhouse and it looks like little home on the prarie- that's a problem, because what we are teaching them does not seem relevant and relatable to them. We need to bridge the gap between school and reality, and we have to do it faster than we're comfortable with, to be honest.

So we have kids asking very real and important questions "Why is learning this important to me and relevant to my life?" And I think we should be able to answer those questions for them, or change what we're doing accordingly. I've found watching a few episodes of Dream School on the Sundance Channel enlightening- a bunch of kids with serious problems, kicked out of regular schools, attending a special school with people like Oliver Stone, Suzie Orman and Soledad OBrien teaching, as a way to reengage these kids in learning and in dreaming about their own potential, has given me both perspective and a lot of food for thought- you should take a peek.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Wow! What a great question by that 8th Grader. In fact, what an interesting question from anyone! I think that the reason many students drop out is because of two things, both of which have been mentioned above: relevance and failure. In Australia, where the school leaving age was recently raised to 17, we are now facing real challenges in providing a learning environment that allows all students to grow and flourish - where before they might have left. I think that the only way to do this would be via big changes in schools - to allows, for example, the would-be chef to develop his skills and talents.

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