As we get ready to begin the second decade of the 21st Century, we note that electronic and computer technology is making a great difference in the way we live, communicate, work and do business. The internet has been to modern society what the printing press was to the world in the 15th century. Martin Luther had several predecessors(Jan Huss, John Wycliff) in his ideas on the Bible and church services in the language of the people, but it was not until the printing press came along that those ideas would disseminate rapidly. In such a way the internet and other electronic technology is affecting us today.
The question arises then, as to what does this mean for education, and for our children. Both schools and parents need to look very carefully at these questions and consider what is best for the child’s general education, and what will make him or her more employable, and also knowledgeable enough to vote in a reasonable manner. In the face of this, there are many companies beating the drum of advanced technology to saturate the schools with it. I note in passing that many schools are spending fortunes in modernizing classrooms so as to take advantage of modern electronic technology. These changes will make a difference in how and what our kids learn and look at the world.
Question one, then for parents, is when and how my kids need technology. With computer programmes to teach reading typing etc., it is sometimes difficult to say. One also needs to look at the learning experience for kids. I note younger and younger kids with electronic games of different kinds. Studies indicate that electronic games provide an almost constant stimulus, not found in real life. Vendors of electronic technology tell us that electronic technology is necessary in schools so as to counteract the computer and electronic game effect. But how many employers are going to be willing to electronify the work place so as to keep the employees attention. Outside of working drones for the military, or working for Google, it is not very likely to happen, and in the long run would be detrimental to the work place as things become more and more exciting gamewise, causing the need to always be expanding and modernizing. Let me also note that kids I have seen who spend a lot of time on these games seem to be lacking social skills.
A second part of electronic technology is the cell phone. Do the kids really need them? Is giving your child a cell phone going to be a positive or negative experience? Growing up in the 60’s, we obviously did not have cell phones. We always asked permission to go to a friend’s house, and if we were to change our plans once there, we would borrow the phone, to call our parents and get permission to go elsewhere. Kids seem to be incapable of this today. Instead of teaching kids basic responsibility, we take on a false sense of security in our belief that we can always find our kid by cell phone. As kids become older, they become more and more wedded to their cell phone. As a substitute, I am continually asking kids to turn the cell phones off, and do their work. Personally I believe they are a distraction with no place in school or the classroom.
Calculators have long had a place in the classroom, and that place needs to be examined as well. Kids develop the attitude that they do not need to memorize because they can find it on the calculator, or computer. In addition kids lose the sense of process. In the early 70’s, a great deal of time in math class was spent figuring out square roots, sines, cosines, logarithms and other things. Of course we did not have a calculator to do it for us! But the process was useful. By the time I left high school, I could determine square roots to two decimal places in my head. Using a cheap slide rule (which we were not allowed to use in class until 11th grade and only for chemistry and physics), I could figure out trigonometric functions, multiply divide, and logarithmic functions. It is well know today that most kids leaving high school cannot estimate, a lack which permits them not to catch their errors.
Computers as well, are they good or bad? What should their place be in education? Do teachers need them or not? Today there is also a big push on peripherals, Smart Boards, special cameras, clickers, etc. and many of these devises are being pushed on school boards and teachers.
From my experiences as teacher and substitute teacher and parent over the years, I have some recommendations:
First, forget about the games. Yes they keep the kids occupied, and there are some which teach skills (according to the news even one that teaches kids to eat vegetables), but such games are used by some parents to keep the kids distracted, and it is working well. Play games with your kids instead. Card games, board games, what ever. Kids still enjoy these and they interact with you and each other more.
You do not need a video player in the car. Sure it keeps them quiet on that eight hour road trip, but you might have more fun talking to your kids instead.
Computers are inevitable, but their use should be limited, especially in younger kids. Kids still need to learn to write, although I am in favour of teaching key boarding in elementary, but for the most part, I think computers have no place in school until after 6th grade. The kids need to get basic skills down. As former office manager in a dental office, I found it irksome that every new assistant straight out of high school had to be taught alphabisation. They had no clue. I know it is barbaric, but in elementary school bring back the card catalogue in the library. When kids use a skill they learn it. Same with calculators, they have no place in elementary school. As to the household computer, it (nor television) should ever be allowed in the child’s room. The computer, and phones need to be out where everyone can see it. Kids should use encyclopedias and books for basic research at this time. The skills they learn will help them later in life.
As far as I can tell, because of the way society is changing, you will end up having to give your kid a cell phone by high school. Inevitable. But we need to change the laws to allow schools to use jammers. Emergencies can always be handled by the in classroom phones that even the poorest school districts have today. The kids lack the discipline to turn their phones off. Some teachers lack this discipline too. After all, people can leave a message if it is important, and it usually isn’t.
All the peripherals need to be thought through. Some school districts now have a projector in every room, and said projector can be used with DVD players, overhead projectors, and other items as well. Having recently tutored someone on the use of these peripherals, I would have to say, before you spend the money; make sure it is worth it. A lot of these items are just more expensive ways to do something that teachers are already doing. Is it really necessary? One item advertises itself as being useful in the fact that if it is used in the classroom, the kids will not have to take notes! Taking notes apparently is no longer recognised as being an important activity. This is crazy, because note taking is part of the learning process. When I address employees, I expect them to be able to take notes in one way or another, but many people seem to think note taking is not important or deliver up pre fabricated notes. Reading, writing, listening, speaking are all parts of the learning process. Electronic media should not be used to subvert it.
On the other hand some peripherals are useful. Power Point can make for good presentations and to teach certain points. Certainly there are many things in the market that are useful, but he question also needs to be asked as to whether or not they are cost effective. It is also important that kids learn how to use technology as well. Many aspects of life are computerized these days. The dental office, in which I currently work, plans on being paperless in a year.
So as parents we need to do our part in deciding and monitoring our kids with cell phone, internet, and other devices. In general we should encourage schools to keep calculators out until at least 9th grade for algebra. We should insist on old fashioned books and card catalogues in elementary school, but push for key boarding. In middle school and high school we need to teach general computing skills and maybe some specific ones as well, including teaching kids how to read a manual. We need to make sure that electronic technology does not subvert the learning process, nor become the end in itself. Kids do need to learn to be versatile. It is also of extreme importance that we are getting kids ready for the work place of the future. We also need to be ready to meet with school boards and teachers and talk it through. Old fogies like me have seen some ideas come and fail and go and come again (because no-one else remembers) and fail again. Teachers do not know it all, and can benefit from our experiences. We really need to push the school board to think things through. So again, the parent is the key.
Next: Some real problems in schools
BTW: One might note I do not use the word technology as so many do. That is because even a bow and arrow is technology, and I got picky about having to explain to my classes that primitive peoples and Amish use technology as well.