Replacing Teachers With TechnologySeptember 28, 2010 - 11:34 AM | by: Meredith Orban
At Ironia Elementary School in Randolph, New Jersey Spanish class means a visit to the computer lab. Students complete their lessons individually, murmuring into microphones to work on their pronunciation. A classroom teacher is on hand to supervise and help with technical support, but the language learning comes from Rosetta Stone, an interactive computer program.
Randolph is one of several districts in the state cutting elementary foreign language teachers due to budget cuts. Owen Snyder, Randolph Superintendent of Schools says that before the cut the township only had money in the budget for two foreign language teachers to work in all the elementary schools. Each class got half an hour a week of Spanish language instruction. Now, with Rosetta Stone the students get regular lessons and the district saves nearly $100,000.
The Superintendent believes the ideal situation would be to have a foreign language teacher in the classroom several days a week, but says it was not a choice he had. In discussing his decision, Snyder explains that world language is not part of the core education curriculum in the state. “The irony in our world today, when we need more people to know more languages and communicate better, it isn’t part of the core,” Snyder says, “So, what we did is look at all of programs we absolutely couldn’t cut, and put them aside. And then, what could we cut if we could find an adequate substitute? And when it comes to world language, Rosetta Stone is actually an extremely good substitute.”
Not everyone agrees though that a computer program is a suitable alternative to a living, breathing teacher. Bret Lovejoy, Executive Director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign languages points out that language learning is a “highly intensive interactive process” and says the presence of a live teacher is very important. “If a school needs to cut costs in other areas, are we going to replace an English language teacher in the United States with software? I think if people think about applying it to other subjects it doesn’t make any sense. And it probably makes the least sense in replacing foreign language teachers because language learning is one of the most highly interactive and complex processes that we go through as human beings.”
Lovejoy goes so far as to say that if it is between no language instruction or a computer program, the choice should be no instruction. “I understand their motivation,” he says, “but it’s wrongheaded thinking to thing that a software program is going to lead to language learning… when the students don’t learn the language, how is that going to affect them psychologically? I think we have enough problems with education to now, on top of that, throw it all to the students and leave it up to them to learn with the use of software. I think the long term consequences of it could be devastating.”
Tom Adams, the CEO of Rosetta Stone, strongly disagrees with Lovejoy’s reasoning. “The ideal scenario is that you have teachers who are getting the students to socialize language,” Adams explains, “but if the choice is zero or Rosetta Stone, it must be Rosetta Stone… The whole idea that teachers are monopolists on language instruction is wrong.”
Snyder believes technology is going to change the nature of education dramatically. “We are preparing kids for careers that don’t exist, and we have got to do it differently. And one of the ways we do it is to use technology effectively.” He says there will be far fewer teaching jobs, but there will absolutely still be a need for classroom teachers.
As for the students at Ironia Elementary, they say they like the program so far. When asked if they preferred the computer program to the language instruction they got in previous years, every student in Mrs. Soldivieri’s fifth grade classed raised his or her hand.