There’s been lots of buzz in the past months about MIT Media Lab’s One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. According to a WorldChanging article posted Saturday, the OLPC is now a reality — the first 1,000 units rolled off the assembly line in Shanghai and headed for Argentina & Brazil last week.
On one level, a self-powering, portable, kid-friendly computer — and for under $150, no less — is very appealing. And sure, the idea of giving children in underdeveloped countries like Cambodia, Nigeria, Libya, & Thailand the opportunity to connect to the sum of human knowledge on the Internet seems a noble notion. But Randy over at electrogeek.com wisely posed a question that’s been weighing on my mind too… Do Starving Children Really Need a $100 Laptop?
Are notebook PCs really the key to a better life (or even better learning) for children? Countless genuises — people whose ideas changed the world — existed long before the advent of semiconductors, so it hardly seems likely that the lack of a computer will truly hamper any child’s learning ability or intellectual potential.
I’m baffled why more people can’t see that funding books, teachers, & schools is more appropriate than placing gadgets in the hands of impoverished children. John Wood, founder of Room to Read, sensibly notes that a $2000 library can serve 400 children, costing just $5 per child. A $10,000 school can serve 400-500 children, or under $25 each.
As I’ve wondered before, maybe we need to seriously consider the wisdom of introducing computers into kids’ lives at too early an age. Does technology magically equate to a more efficient learning environment for children — or could it actually become a barrier to kids learning to think creatively and solve problems?
This week’s edition of Deb Shinder’s WXPnews featured an editorial that centered around Jodi Upton’s short essay Handwriting on The Wall for Cursive. It seems the growing trend is for elementary schools to stop teaching cursive writing as a mandatory part of their curriculum and, like Deb, I’m both surprised and saddened by this.
Unquestionably, I believe there’s no price you can place on the value of teaching children handwriting. But there’s an underlying issue at stake that’s even bigger than that. It’s the ever-increasing emphasis on making computer-use skills a priority at such an early age that truly disturbs me. That kids now start using computers in kindergarten is just a bit stunning. Seems to me that kids need time to just be kids. They need to learn how to interact with the world around them and develop social skills. Since I don’t yet have a parent’s perspective, maybe I’m off the mark, but isn’t it more important that kids learn to doodle with crayons or play ball before they learn Powerpoint, video games and/or instant messaging?
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a bona fide techno-junkie and I love my PC, iPod, DVR, & other electronic goodies. And I’m certainly in favor of teaching keyboarding skills in school — nearly every day, I see firsthand how not being able to type well hinders people in the workplace. But I’m tentative about introducing computers into kids’ lives at too early an age. The next generation will be enslaved by technology to a degree that we may not even be able to fully forsee. Computers will undoubtedly dominate nearly every facet of their lives. So, maybe we need to make sure kids have ample opportunities to learn how to exist & succeed in the real world before thrusting them headlong into the inescapable cyber-world.
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