This week I received a letter from my daughter’s school announcing a scheme to equip every student with a laptop to use in lessons and at home – my daughter is seven. The letter was interesting in many ways – not least in that in our new era of austerity parents are being asked to pay £20 per month for a two-year contract to lease the computers – £480 for a bottom of the range notebook!
However, what was more telling was the Q&A that the schools sent out with the letters. It showed an interesting mix of what could be termed ‘modern’ concerns alongside more traditional worries. So questions about how privacy and online behaviour would be monitored sat alongside those about impact on handwriting and reading skills.
The crux of the argument for the scheme was that children were ‘digital natives’ and needed to access computers and the internet as an integral part of their studies, rather than as a separate lesson in the ICT lab. I wholeheartedly agree – in fact I was a little surprised that the old approach of wheeling kids into a dark room with 15 PCs to share once a week was still current. And I do agree that even at seven children can and do benefit from using technology – my daughter already uses our home PC to access the school’s learning platform, as well as playing games and watching iPlayer.
However, what jarred for me was the understanding on one hand that kids are the digital natives, whilst on the other palming them off with a low-end PC. Deloitte Consulting’s predictions for 2011 reveal that over half of the computers sold this year will not be ‘computers’ as we know them, but be smart phones, tablets or other devices. Children today find the PC’s and laptops that we all use day-in-day-out as archaic as cassette recorders or CD players. They are the iPod Touch generation, used to intuitive, highly visual, instant and touch-sensitive ways of finding and controlling content.
Parents often marvel at the technical aptitude of their young children, but much of this is surely to do with the massive improvements in usability of technology. We all joke about having to help our parents programme the VCR – but that was a complicated task compared to recording something on Sky+. I imagine my daughter would struggle with creating a chart in PowerPoint, but she can edit and save a photo on her iPod quick as anything. It’s not that she’s super intelligent and brilliant (although obviously she is), but just that the iPod is a brilliantly easy device to use, and there is a wealth of excellent apps that she can easily find and use to achieve whatever she wants to do.
So, why equip the digital natives with a device that is quickly becoming obsolete, and will certainly be so by the time they enter the workforce? Why not bite the bullet and give them tablets, or even iPods – select software from the hundreds of excellent (and usually free) apps available, and really invest in understanding how they use technology, rather than try and bend them to the awkward and unfulfilling text and keyboard based world of the PC?