06 March 2008

Special Needs, Mobiles in Schools, Equity, and Your Kids' Future

A long time ago schools taught a few useful things. You not only read novels and learned a bit of history and maths, but you might have discovered how to make a cake, or fix a lamp, or write a letter asking for a job. In the best schools you also may have learned general communication skills, and things might have been taught regarding actually functioning in the world.

This doesn't happen much anymore. Preparation for academic tests has replaced most learning, both "functional" and "inspiring." And the result is students leave schools (especially in the US) completely unprepared for anything - jobs, university, often just finding their way around the planet. Of course this isn't a huge deal for those born to the ruling class - those with the advantages, innate, cultural, and familial - that really do not need to depend on their own skills to survive. But for the poor, the 'disabled,' those outside the 'cultural mainstream,' this is devastating.

Consider a few of the basic skills of life, say, paying your bills, depositing checks, parking your car, telling your boss you are stuck in traffic and will be late, getting on a mass transit system. Or consider a few of the kind of things that might lift a person - say visiting a museum and interacting with the exhibits, or getting news and information when you need it.

Now realize that it is likely that you will need to use a mobile phone to do all of those things in the near future. You will need to know how to do these things. You will need to be fully comfortable with the technology or you will be left behind.

Understand - those with 'no problems' - the rich, the white, the very-abled, those with connected parents - they won't need these things desperately. They won't need to be as good and as fast as they can possibly be. But for the rest of us, we will. And someone will need to teach us these things.

Who will be that teacher?

"This isn't a school issue," I hear that a lot when I suggest the need for technology training. But if not school... who? where? Should students only learn technology from commercial salespeople? Or only from their peer group? Doesn't that foster the cultural and economic divides we already struggle with? Doesn't that hand over control to the profit-makers and those who will abuse our students' trust?

After all, we do teach much about using some forms of technology. We teach keyboarding as if that is important (though not on mobile phone keyboards - schools pay Microsoft a great deal, Google, O2, and AT&T very little). We teach how to handle books. We used to teach things like the use of checking accounts. We do teach about coins and currency. But what about the technologies that will dominate when our students graduate? Who is teaching our students about that?

Interesting question? OK. If you doubt my premise, let's look below.

Pay by mobile phone? in the US or see the video below for Europe

"In the C1000 supermarket in Molenaarsgraaf (a small village in the Netherlands), 100 customers pay their groceries with their mobile phones. The system is based on an NFC phone that is linked to a Rabobank account . The phone replaces the debit card. Hold the phone close to the pin terminal, enter the pin code and the payment is done. Very simple!"

Or deposit checks via your phone's camera

"Compatible with any mobile devices equipped with 2 megapixel camera or higher and Windows Mobile or Symbian OS, this application is very easy to use. Here's the basic guide:
"To make a deposit, the user initiates a mobile banking session, keys in the deposit amount, and snaps a photo of the front and back of the check. The software captures the images and recognizes and extracts the check's Courtesy Amount and Legal Amount (CAR/LAR). Before transmitting data to the bank, ImageNet Mobile Deposit confirms the check images meet Check 21 accepted image quality standards. Once the bank's system receives the deposit, it sends the customer a confirmation text message."
Or a museum visit... either virtual...

"Live broadcasting using a mobile phone is one of the newest ways we are applying technology at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, Japan. A mobile phone can provide live broadcasting capabilities for museum galleries, school classrooms, community centers and even fossil sites. With the right kind of equipment; namely, an audio/video port on the phone, this type of broadcasting can be simple to set up, dynamic and spontaneous. Common concerns regarding resolution quality and phone charge expense are not onerous, compared to other modes of information delivery. The image is good enough to allow people to communicate clearly. Also, communication charges are a pittance compared to the cost of transporting a lecturer to a venue. Phone broadcasting is an opportunity for interactive activity that allows different groups to defy spatial constraints. We provide details on several recent telecommunication experiences with links in Japan and abroad."

or in person...

"Mobile phones have the potential of becoming a future platform for personal museum guidance. They enable full multimedia presentations and - assuming that the visitors are using their own devices - will significantly reduce acquisition and maintenance cost for museum operators. However, several technological challenges have to be mastered before this concept can be successful. One of them is the question of how individual museum objects can be intuitively identified before presenting corresponding information."

Or just to pay for parking...

or simply to climb on that bus or train...

How will your student get around in the world of 2012? Who is teaching him or her how to live?

- Ira Socol

The Drool Room by Ira David Socol, a novel in stories that has - as at least one focus - life within "Special Education in America" - is now available from the River Foyle Press through lulu.com

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