Living and teaching in a school situated in the hub of the IT revolution, the impact of computers on a child’s psyche is not hard to observe. While meeting a toddler who had come for admission to class 1, we asked him whether he had seen a rainbow. He replied enthusiastically that he had and went on to describe its colours as black, orange and blue. On being asked where he had seen such a rainbow, pat came the reply, ‘On the computer of course’. He had never looked at a real rainbow! It is unfortunate that simulations on the computer screen have started replacing simple things of joy in nature. One begins to wonder if any other tool discovered in the past has had such a strong impact on the human psyche.
At the Valley School in Bangalore we have consciously avoided having computers as a subject (or object) of study till class 9. One reason is that most students have access to computers at home and there is no need for additional exposure in school. But more importantly, we have felt it is much more significant for a child to get adequate time to work with his/her hands, play, talk over issues with friends and teachers and relate to nature, while he is in school.
At class 9 level, when students make a choice to study ‘computer science’ as a course (rather than art, music, physical education or cookery), we make it a point to ask each student the reasons for choosing this subject. Invariably the answer is on the following lines: ‘Isn’t it obvious? Today 'computer’ is a magic word, it has revolutionized our lives’ or ‘It is the in-thing today; one has to be computer savvy before anything else’ and so on. It is quite unfortunate that many youngsters are influenced by the hype in society, perhaps through parents, friends and others, while choosing their subject of study. This becomes an important challenge for us as teachers, to try and facilitate and assist children in finding out what it is that they really want to do, before they make their decisions.
Even at the senior level (Classes 11 and 12) many students opt for a computer course because they feel that they can learn the ‘latest ’ languages, C++, Java and so on, and become computer ‘whiz kids’ straightaway. This again is the wrong approach to making a major decision. Studying computer programming in fact involves learning logic-building, writing algorithms and developing problem-solving skills, without getting caught in the procedures and syntax of a particular language. It is like learning any other subject where the fundamental concepts, facts and principles are first to be understood, rather than going directly to its applications. When all this is made clear, many of the students seeking the ‘fast track’ quietly opt out of the subject and only those with real aptitude and interest stay on.
I have found it very valid to discuss the following issues/questions with students, particularly with those who are keen to take up ‘computers’ as an elective subject.
Is it possible to understand that the computer is yet another tool, and though fast and efficient, it is not a magic wand! To use it efficiently and intelligently, it is the human brain that requires a clear understanding of any given situation, so that it can translate it into suitable instructions for the machine. Learning the use of a tool is only a small part, while understanding how and where it is to be used is much more significant.
We also need to be aware of the negative impact that using computers has had on several people working in the field today. Do we realize that it is addictive and habit-forming? The damage is not confined to physical aspects (back pain, shoulder droop, numb fingers, red eyes, etc.) but also has psychological implications when we rely too much on computers. So, how does one draw theline between judicious use and indulgence?
In today’s world where computers and related gadgets have become so overpowering, it is necessary in schools such as ours, to constantly discuss and understand the relevance and the right place of this ‘appliance’ in our life. In this there is no need to denounce or condemn computers, but rather one mustmake the attempt to understand the use of computers in the right perspective.