There are lots of things that worry tabloids, current affairs programs, and talkback radio shock jocks. Some of these things are immigration, neighbours from hell, love-rat rip-off merchants, termites, crash diets, dole-bludging playstation addicts, the utter degeneration of civilisation as we know it BEFORE OUR VERY EYES... the list goes on. But one of the perpetual flavours of the month for these harbingers of doom and global devastation is the future of our children. And one of the big recurring themes is about the deterioration of education, the substandard ability of teachers, and the (usually negative) impact of technology on the classical education of our little angels.
In the last couple of weeks, there have been some stories that have come to my attention along the theme of technology and kids. Here in my home state of Western Australia, the press swooped on our much maligned minister for education who suggested that maybe the important thing about history was the context, and that the dates were secondary and far less engaging. In fact, she remarked, kids could get dates from google. "Don't learn it, just google it: Ravlich" was the mature contribution by our state's newspaper. As though, somehow, computer literacy is a poor second to being able to rattle off a whole load of dates by memory. So one big black mark against technology. On the other hand, some people are pretty into technology for our kids: firstly, a story about engaging kiddies in learning in Goa using FOSS educational games at the local telecentres. Secondly, also about India, a story about RMS visiting the state of Kerala, who are now set to migrate all their highschool students to GNU/Linux within three years. (The New York Times were pretty focused on the fact that Kerala are COMMUNISTS. And we all know how we should feel about COMMUNISTS...) Back to the good old U. S. of A., and there was a back to school seminar held for some primary school kids in Arizona about how to be net safe and avoid internet predators. Excellent work.
Now while this looks like us in the West of Australia are a backwards lot and India and America are sailing joyously towards a techno-friendly future, I assure you this is not the case. Many people in the western world share this view. One of the things I find really disturbing about education at this point in time is the emphasis on a very narrow form of education - headlines that scream about children not being able to spell, not being educated 'properly' - because they use phones and computers too much. It's like denying that there might be something good about using technology - and thereby educating children to become technology-literate as one of our priorities. I'm not sure why this is - I'm pretty sure most of these kids are going to be using computers in their future careers, not hanging out at the printing press or using a quill and ink to work out graphs. My analogy is who kicks up a fuss now about using graphics calculators in maths? Who says 'no, that's not REAL maths, you have to work out everything by hand!' The emphasis about learning now should be about HOW we can learn, and how to be discerning learners. On this note, I am so glad that companies are taking it upon themselves to educate children about net safety. I am also glad that people are seeing FLOSS as a viable educational tool. And I hope that FLOSS developers maintain an awareness of how important the technological education of children is, and that they continue to develop educational programs for students. Because I might live in a backwater town, but it would be nice if computer literacy could become as common as using a graphics calculator.