Are Canada’s Schools Embracing Computers too Zealously?

Most parents, school officials and politicians see children’s familiarity with computers at an early age as extremely important for successful individual careers and for society’s prosperity in a “knowledge economy,” writes Henry Aubin at the Montreal Gazette.

In response to strong public support for the technological trend, Premier of the English Montreal School Board Jean Charest promised a few months ago to put a smart whiteboard in every primary- and secondary-school classroom across the province.

But there is also the backlash against the trend. What makes this contrarian response remarkable is that it’s coming in part from what are arguably among the world’s least Luddite-like people – Silicon Valley’s wizards of the digital era.

As Education News reported last week, some of the top technology executives at Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard and other such firms send their children to a private school where computers are off-limits until Grade 8. The school believes computers reduce attention spans, inhibit creative thinking and interfere with face-to-face interaction.

“I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school,” said Alan Eagle, 50, whose daughter is one of the 196 children at the Waldorf elementary school.

“The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.”

Some education experts agree and say that the push to equip classrooms with computers is unwarranted because studies do not clearly show that this leads to better test scores or other measurable gains.

CÉGEP philosophy teacher, François Doyon says:

“The calculator frees us from having to count, the GPS from knowing how to read a map, spellcheck software from learning spelling and grammar. These and innumerable other such conveniences numb our minds. Knowledge no longer lives with us, he writes; it’s something we hold in our hands.”

Many of his fellow young teachers, Doyon notes, rely on digital technology in class. With them as models, he asks, how can schools help young people hone their ability to think critically and train them to explore questions that don’t have ready-made Internet answers?

A fair question, writes Aubin. And, given that three-quarters of the 196 elementary-school students at the Silicon Valley school have parents immersed in the high-tech world, it’s a question that deserves thought.