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How Education and Technology May Not Mix

Technology throughout the ages has always had an impact on society at large. Drill down further and one can witness the effects on how children are educated throughout the world. Yet presently, there seems to be confusion about how computer technology should be implemented in the classroom. Whereas the recent train of thought universally recommends introducing children to computers as early as possible, an alternate view has emerged in the heart of the tech economy simply stating “computers and schools don’t mix.”

In a recent NY Times article titled “A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute”, the focus is on the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, one of around 160 Waldorf schools in the country who’s teaching philosophy advocates physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Computers have no place in these schools. In fact, computer use for their students is discouraged at home as well. Remarkably, the majority of students at the Silicon Valley based school are the sons and daughters of the titans of technology such as Apple, Google, and Ebay.

As a parent who’s admittedly enamored with the wonders of technology, I’ve struggled with the question of when to introduce computer technology to my children. The ability to operate these devices has become fairly simple. For example the intuitive interface of an Apple iPad can literally be described as child’s play. Yet there’s an obvious disconnect with the world around them when kids find themselves engaged in the operation of a tech gadget. Human interaction fades into the background.like a frightened turtle into its shell. Then getting a child to disengage with the device has the potential for all sorts of explosive fireworks.

Of course I’ve attempted to take a balanced approach with my own children yet the results have been mixed at best. Perhaps everything old is new again. The no frills back to basics approach taken by the Waldorf school does have an appeal. I didn’t own a computer until I was in my late teens and was able to quickly learn how to use one. Fast forward to the present and the point of entry has become exceedingly effortless. Companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google are driven by the goal to design simple intuitive user interfaces for complex technology. So why not put off the introduction of computers to children while instead focusing on basic concepts and a tangible tactile sense of their world? A tantalizing question that will continue to puzzle parents in the foreseeable future.

What do you think? How have you approached the issue of technology with your kids? How soon is too soon?

  • My daughter goes to a Waldorf school – she is nearly 10 and does not use a computer – I am not worried. She will get to use one when she goes to the Waldorf high school – it is funny really, because I work on the computer all day. I think she sees it more of a work tool and she never asks to use it. TV on the other hand is another story – she asks for that.
    As far as school goes I don’t think it is a must. I have friends whose children are the same age and they are expected to do power point presentations etc. I think that young kids work better with less abstract and more hands on.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for sharing your experience.  I agree with your notion that “young kids work better with less abstract and more hands on.”  Incorporating a tactile sense of an object registers more deeply than seeing it displayed on a screen.  Kids need to get their hands dirty.  

  • Definitely there computer and ipad can be helpful, but they also are crutches for the teacher.  They are like TV, where they can absorb the attention of children for a long time and I think that some teachers and parents are seduced by this.  They can convince themselves that the child is learning so “it’s not as bad as TV.”  The easy thing is then you can just test the child.  As questions, see if they’re getting a worthwhile result.  Then you’ll know if the program or website or gadget is of the use you thought it would be.

    They shouldn’t need computers in the young grades at school at all for learning.  Doesn’t mean it can’t work.  My grade 2 som knows how to read and now wikipedia is his favorite site.  That’s not bad.  However the other kids like the PBS kids games, which are mainly movie clips, so I don’t let them on that anymore. 

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for providing your thoughts Alex.  I tend to try to filter my children’s experience with the iPad with mixed results which is why Waldorf’s approach appeals to me. Your suggestion to “test the kids” using apps makes a lot of sense. 

  • I think this is a VERY challenging issue! The Waldorf schools are great! My older son almost went there. Like EVERYTHING, there’s usually a happy middle ground. So goes it with Tech – it’s wonderful when it’s NOT abused, overused, and relied upon (in place of IRL!).

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for writing in Bruce.  As you suggest, there’s certainly a need to find a “happy middle ground.”  The question comes down to when a child should be exposed to technology.  Once the door has been opened it’s nearly impossible to close again.