A cautionary view in integrating computers in schools

A lot has been said on the capacity of computer technology to revolutionize education. The government, companies, foundations, and other organizations have provided generous financial and moral support to efforts to spread the use of computers in schools.

When computers are introduced in school, the environment is changed to accommodate its use. Teaching computers in school could result to increasing the time a student spends at school or decreasing the time for so-called “non-critical” subjects like music. The former means less time for playing which promotes social interaction while the latter reduces opportunities for self-expression, which is essential in character building.

Computers can alter the way we think about education. The more we allow computers to play a pivotal role in school, the more we see the rapid accumulation, manipulation, and sharing of information as central to the learning process.

We can use a computer to present historical events complete with videos, music, text, and pictures (what technology professionals call a multimedia presentation). I am sure it would capture the students’ attention but learning would only take place if the students can understand why these events happened, how it changed history, and its effect to the present.

Providing information is not enough. All the information a doctor will need can be stored in a computer. Even if I have access to that information, you would not ask a computer science graduate like me for medical advice.

What we need to ask is what kind of learning takes place with a computer and what kind gets left out. When we want to learn about something, we only need information. If we want to learn from something, we must enter into a rich and complex relationship with the the subject at hand. That is why doctors spend many years interacting with the human body aside from reading plenty of books.

There are benefits in exposing children to computers early but there are also consequences that we should be aware of. Computers, technology in general, promote certain qualities and sideline others. Electronic phone books allow us to organize contact information easily but by being dependent on it, we do not exercise our ability to memorize things. Examples abound: using a spell checker instead of learning to spell, using a calculator instead of learning to add, and many more.

For all its negative effects, this does not mean we must remove all computers in school nor we should shield our children from all technological advancement. Technology training is important but more important is developing our children’s ethical strength to resist abusing the technology available to them.

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