The advances made possible by the digital revolution in the latter part of the 20th Century need no superlatives; nearly ubiquitous as the very air we breathe, technology has and will continue to enable greater advances in all aspects of our lives, education included. It is propagated and worshipped everywhere, increasingly in classrooms, where Smartboards and other digital teaching aids are considered hallmarks of the school and advertised to the public as such. Being tech-literate is pretty much a requisite in the modern age and computer programming skills being pushed onto children from a very young age can only benefit them later on, or so goes the premise. Nonetheless, primary schools, in particular, could do without these expensive and perhaps pointless devices.
No, this does not advocate out-dated school and classroom designs but offers instead an alternative to needless inclusion of technology where none or little is required: less is better and this could not be truer for a child’s imagination – in primary school, it is still developing and needs to be stimulated naturally. Think of it as reading a book, the words and the entwined narrative both form the images and the visual representation of the ideas behind contained within. Thus, for each individual, how that narrative translates into mental imagery is unique. Now consider the very same book presented as a series of images or even a video. What happens here? The mind does not need to process the words and translate them into vivid imagery because that imagery already exists on a screen. However, somebody else’s imagination allows your brain to experience rather than perform any creative cognitive task.
Development of the visual cortex
Similarly, a child faced with such imagery, presented through iPads and other technological tools, loses that ability to think creatively because the nascent visual cortex needs natural development; and not suppressed due to artificial stimuli. Take television watching, for instance, an activity that requires very little processing of imagery and is instead a very passive mental and physical activity. Yes, technology enables students to both learn new material and produce professional-looking presentations – a noble yet flawed intention – but the novelty of handing them laptops, as schools are doing increasingly, is counter-productive. Within a few months, children tend to use these for surfing the Internet and other meaningless online activities; nevertheless, we encourage this in the hopes that technology will make the children wiser.
Development of gross-motor skills
Technology can become an excellent tool in the hands of an excellent teacher, making teaching truly memorable for the students. However, having a 4-year-old child manipulate virtual objects using a sleek application on an iPad instead of physical ones really hampers the growth of the ability to use their hands, which allow them to understand the natural world, to feel the texture, the softness, and other physical qualities of physical objects. The screen takes away the mental capacity to process these sensations and the virtual representations of the real world contained within are no substitute for real learning. Blocks, play-dough, art, and other building materials such as sand and water provide children with an incredible amount of creative freedom, precisely because of their open-ended, problem-solving nature.
Promotion of Rote-learning
While the plethora of learning applications on tablet and PCs never ceases to amaze, it is somebody else’s design and it finishes somewhere. Math-based applications and games allow a child to learn the right answer to 3×4, for instance, from tapping repeatedly on the presented choices until the correct option reads out ‘Success!’ but will never enable understanding of the causal ideas behind why the multiplication works that way. It promotes simple right and wrong, and once the child understands this, seeking the right option becomes second nature and searching for why becomes relegated to the dustbin of history.
Shortened Attention Spans
Combined with the promotion of rote learning due to ‘failure’, technology decreases the ability of a child to concentrate for an extended period on a particular activity. Screens facilitate distraction from reality and decrease a child’s ability to relate emotionally and socially not just to other children but also adults. Due to their own time-constraints, parents, too, enable this behaviour by giving them technology instead of interacting and building a good bond with their child. No wonder children are growing up with attention deficiency disorders, and then are medicated for it!
Just pen and paper, thank you
As children grow up and enter middle school, more technology is pushed onto them. After all, the child must be tech-savvy in today’s fast-paced world. “Pedagogical conservatism”, or a relaxed classroom milieu, without the daily use of technology, enables better learning. Just look at Finland’s highly envied schools, which use less education technology than the rest of the developed nations and whose students are among the highest worldwide achievers in maths, reading, and science. The old adage, “less is more”, certainly seems to work without the widespread use of education technology, proving that simplicity works better over sophistication.
Education technology is immensely beneficial if used sparingly and for certain purposes, such as for those children with learning disabilities or for complex science simulations. Tasking a teenager with producing a certain graph on Excel after (s)he masters drawing it on paper is understandably more beneficial than the reverse. The ability to focus on a task for more than half an hour without disruption is valuable in the workplace and the distractions, in the form of technology, are manifest from prolonged exposure to it from a young age.