International Children’s Education
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Computers in Education
by Sharon Haag
How can I use the computer to help me educate my children overseas?
Computers are wonderful tools and can be used to advantage in children’s education. The big attractions to many families serving in overseas settings are the volume of material that can be acquired and carried inexpensively on CDs and the possibility that children may be able to work more independently, not requiring as much parental time for teaching. As you evaluate what part computers should play in your children’s education, it is important to carefully consider both what they do well and what they cannot do related to the goals you have for your children.
Most educators agree that computer programs can be excellent motivators for learning rote facts and processes. They give variety and add special effects to drill and practice. They often allow for individualization of level and rate of presentation, so children can proceed with appropriate challenges to sustain motivation and encourage mastery.
The huge amount of reference material now available on CDs and through the Internet can provide a tremendous library of resources at low cost and easy portability. More and more educational videos/films are also becoming available.
Children who learn to use word processors can become more fluent writers and are more willing to revise and edit their products. Children who struggle with the mechanical aspects of handwriting and spelling often can express themselves more easily using a keyboard and programs that check spelling and grammar. Writing programs for young children can read back what the child has entered, providing auditory reinforcement and motivation.
Computer literacy is a requirement to prepare students for today’s world. Computers are a great tool for learning to type. Some programs, such as PowerPoint, can help students organize thoughts and ideas.
A computer can serve as a window to virtual (on-line) schools, such as NorthStar Academy, where it is a conduit for interaction with teachers and other students.
Questions to Consider
Just as with any other curriculum choice, educational materials for the computer must be evaluated for their quality and suitability for your situation. Consider both educational and developmental issues.
Effects on children
Many educators are concerned about the effects of too much computer use on children. For young children, a main fear is that computer use will replace the time they should be spending doing the activities that have proven to be most beneficial to brain development and learning in the early years—lots of direct, hands-on spatial experience and creative play. Working on a computer shows reality in the abstract (represented by symbols), which is not the most appropriate or fruitful way for children younger than age seven to think. Other risks that have been associated with much computer use at young ages include lack of imagination, social isolation, repetitive stress injuries, concentration problems, and poor language and literacy skills. Much educational/game-type software has high entertainment value but low educational value.
Thinking Skill Development
A major concern for all children relates to the effects computers may have on the development of thinking skills. Normal human brains have at their disposal two complementary methods of processing information: sequential and simultaneous (often called parallel). Computers almost always process sequentially. Until they can engage in parallel and simultaneous processing, computers will be a poor match and a poor model for most forms of human reasoning. Even simulation games (such as Oregon Trail) that are apparently quite educational require a good teacher nearby. Otherwise, they often get treated by youngsters as simply games of chance, with little attention to the educational goals.
No Hands-on Experimentation
As more quality CDs with historical films and science experiments become available, they may give opportunity for more observation and parallel mental processing. However, particularly in the area of science, there is no substitute for hands-on experimentation and direct observation.
Development of Reasoning Skills
Though computers serve well as coaches for mastering certain types of information and skills, children who always have information fed to them and whose focus is on getting “the right answer” may not develop the independent reasoning skills to ask the right questions. Children need to develop a “big picture” framework through self-initiated learning experiences. They need opportunities to organize information themselves, and they need to make inferences, build hypotheses, and apply information to real-life situations in order to develop the kind of thinking skills that are most useful in life.
Lack of Human Modeling
Even though word processors are good tools for encouraging writing, children need human input and modeling in order to learn how to organize their thoughts into main ideas with supporting specifics, create a good flow of thought, and be descriptive and engaging. Computers have limited capability to encourage expressions of creativity and humor, and they are incapable of helping children understand the process and develop face-to-face communication skills such as the meaning of inflections, tone of voice, body language, and nuances.
The isolation from home-culture peers that most of our children experience only highlights the necessity for face-to-face human interaction to be a significant part of their learning program.
Use computers for the educational purposes for which they are most suited, but broaden your child’s learning experiences with other types of interaction and activities.
If you provide much factual input via computer programs, make sure children also have opportunities to do something with the information they receive—hands-on activities and projects that apply knowledge to life and allow for creativity/humor and individual strengths of expression (such as oral, artistic, musical, logical, dramatic, and concrete).
Vary the subject areas taught via the computer from year to year.
Make sure higher-level thinking skills are included in your child’s educational experience—categorizing, organizing, making inferences and applications, evaluating, synthesizing, and planning own learning program in areas of interest (for example: asking appropriate questions, planning ways to find the answers, researching using various media resources as well as direct observation and interviewing, presenting what was learned in more ways than just writing).
Provide modeling and practice of face-to-face interaction around subject matter:
Reprinted from the August 2002 issue of Parents Teaching Overseas.
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