Technology not only key to edu reform, says Kim

Nov. 4, 2011, 2:15 a.m.

Paul Kim, assistant dean and chief technology officer at the School of Education, emphasized that technology is not a complete solution to improving education in developing countries in a filled Wallenberg Theater on Thursday evening.

The event was part of the Liberation Technology series put on by the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. Kim’s presentation focused on the significant number of under-educated children in the world, noting that more than 67 million children are out of school and many more are going to schools of very poor quality. Kim discussed how to best utilize technology to improve global education.

“A lot of people think delivery and display means learning,” Kim said. “And that’s a huge problem.”

Kim was recently part of a panel that evaluated the effectiveness of the distribution of more than 450,000 laptops in Uruguay. The panel found that only 25 percent of the students brought their laptops to school, a figure Kim blames on a lack of engagement.

“Many of these projects focus on unit cost. They talk about how many units have been deployed… We need to focus on new areas, to find a way to cause and support self-initiated learning.”

“Innovation and technology will not be centered around a piece of technology,” Kim said, suggesting instead that educational reformers should focus on content and promoting self-initiated learning.

This point was particularly resonant given Stanford’s connection with Silicon Valley. Kim was sure to make it clear that technology is only part of the solution, and educational reform must be comprehensive.

Many of the programs that have had success bypassed teachers entirely, going straight to children and giving them mobile learning devices.

“I tell them aliens gave me the devices, and I don’t know anything about these devices. So don’t ask me any questions,” Kim said. This tactic drastically decreased the learning curve, and students figured out the devices much more quickly than teacher-training programs.

This tactic also helped avoid problems like a lack of power or electricity. By hooking up these devices to cheap bicycles, Kim managed to create an “80-dollar moving school,” with a 20-minute bike ride fully charging the mobile device.

Despite these efforts however, some areas simply don’t have the resources to fund things like science experiments.

“Ninety percent of children today will not have experiments in their classrooms,” Kim said. To try to solve this problem, Kim helped developed a Remotely Operated Science Experiment (ROSE) program, which allows students to access a Stanford laboratory through the Internet. Students in these areas can conduct experiments in real-time, which would otherwise be unavailable to them.

“In order to make any educational technology successful you have to understand the ecosystem, not just a piece of technology,” Kim said during the conclusion of his presentation.

During the Q&A, Kim was asked how he deals with resistance from teachers or institutions.

“I don’t talk to teachers, I go straight to the children,” Kim responded. When teachers see that children are learning, are excited about learning, then the teachers get on board and support these technologies.

In a small rural village in India, Kim met with community leaders who simply ordered him not to teach their children, fearing if they became educated they would leave and the agricultural foundation of the village’s economy would crumble.

“When that happens, there’s nothing I can do,” Kim said.

Alexander Atallah ‘14 thought Kim had interesting ideas about technology, and especially thought empowering students was a good idea.

“I strongly believe that education should be improved by giving students more ownership of what they do in school,” Atallah said. “And he seemed to be very forward looking about that aspect.”


Brendan is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously he was the executive editor, the deputy editor, a news desk editor and a writer for the news section. He's a history major originally from New Orleans.

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