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Are Computers Putting Our Childrens Education at Risk?

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Computers are woven into every aspect of our lives. From the microwave oven that small children can learn to use to heat up a hot dog, to the computers under the hoods of our cars, we interact with computers whether we realise it or not. (Campbell, 1999). But when it comes to the education of our children, the use of computers becomes a controversial issue. Of course, as stated above, computers are an everyday tool in the education of children, but the question being asked is, what effect do these computers really have on our children? Are computers being used in age-appropriate ways? Do program designers take into account the developmental needs of children? Are teachers receiving sufficient technology training? Is "learning software" really what it purports to be, or is it simply "edutainment" that reinforces impulsive point-and-click behaviour in the pursuit of a trivial goal? (Healy 1998) Many people are beginning to wonder about these questions, and are coming to the conclusion that computers may be very harmful to the development of our children. Academically, physically, socially and emotionally.

There are many negative issues surrounding the use of computers as educational tools. These range from ineffective learning, impacts on children's health, creativity, brain development and social and emotional growth. Also, besides the issue of computers affecting children's development, there is the ongoing issue of costs of this new and constantly updating technology. These issues, combined with many others, are beginning to emerge, and we can see why many people are reconsidering the validity of computers in education, especially that of young, primary school-aged children.

In relation to the issue of the negative effects computers have on the physical development of children, Jane Healy has presented the following fact:

The American Academy of Paediatrics has expressed concern about the amount of time children spend in front of various types of screens, and several experts in eye development have stated that computer use is creating problems in children developing visual systems. (Healy 1998, p.18)

Healy also cites literature that suggests that during the first six years of life, misuses of technology may adversely affect brain maturation and development.

Computers do have physical effects on those who use them, and these effects can be serious and long lasting, even permanent. Moreover, they contribute to a wide range of disorders - to muscle, joint and tendon damage, to headaches and eyestrain, to seizures and skin problems. Toxic emissions and electromagnetic fields produced by computers and video display terminals are also serious potential health hazards. (Armstrong & Casement 1998 p.150).

Given these facts and the high likelihood of children being exposed to these kinds of things, it can be argued that young children would be better supported if they manipulated and interacted with their physical environment rather than a computer. These findings are a reinforcement of a few of the issues we are faced with when looking at the affect of computers on children's development.

We can see how computers have changed the way children are educated, in comparison to years gone by. But is this to the advantage to today's children? It may seem today, that young people almost never write, preferring keyboards, e-mail and developing ever more dexterous thumbs sending text messages. (Stevenson 2002). As emerging writers this method of recording can be detrimental to children's development of writing. The use of word processors and on screen composition of experienced writers is very valid. From experienced writer's point of view, it is a more fluid medium of expression than writing by hand, allowing free exploration of ideas. With children this is not the case.

If children are still learning the basics of writing, it may be difficult, if not impossible, for them to take advantage of the greater flexibility offered by on screen composition. Writing is at the heart of so much of children's learning at school. Well-developed writing skills are crucial for academic success. (Armstrong & Casement 1998, p.105)

Here we see that the use of computers may inevitably lead to a poorer quality and development in the area of writing. This is quite alarming when thinking about the fact that this writing is a vital life skill for the next



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