Monday, 27 July 2015

Google Generation

Six years ago, I thought that my 10-year-old son was becoming a video game addict so I hid his Nintendo DS. He came home from school and hunted tirelessly for his most cherished device, but to his dismay, he could not find it. Then, instead of asking me about his console, he turned the computer on and googled: ‘How to find a lost Nintendo DS?’ His move made me laugh, as I thought to myself amused, “Oh my God! Look at this 21st century kid! His ultimate source of information is the Internet!”

My son’s case was not a one-off; he represents the digital generation. The digital revolution emerged in the 1980s, and gained pace in the 1990s due to the rising popularity of the Internet and the use of hypermedia. Marc Prensky, a literacy expert, calls today’s children “digital natives.” According to him, children of contemporary society are “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet. On one hand, it is true that surviving in today’s world is impossible without knowing the digital language. But on the other hand, a big question is, “How much exposure is appropriate at a certain stage?” In my son’s case, I had to ask myself how much exposure to the digital language was appropriate for a primary school student.

My 2012 PhD research was related to the perspectives of the newly arrived English as a Second Language parents compared to those of primary school teachers in Australia. During my research, one question I asked the participating parents was about how they consider the use of digital devices by their children from the point of view of learning. All of them unanimously agreed that they were extremely worried about their children’s excessive exposure to technology. They agreed that a ‘certain level’ of exposure was fine; but it was hard for them to set limits on their kids’ digital activities. They were not sure if the use (or misuse?) of the Internet was fostering or hampering their children’s learning.

The Internet, along with digital devices, has definitely benefited society. At the same time, they have their disadvantages. For example, it seems that children have forgotten to read print materials, to play outdoor games - they have even forgotten how to use their brains. Google seems to be the solution to all problems. ‘Copy and paste’ has given birth to a new generation of plagiarisers. Even though a lot of the information online is useful, much of it seems to be unreliable.

Another problem that is prevalent due to the widespread use of the Internet is children being exposed to the massive collection of pornography. A research study conducted by Michele L. Ybarra and Kimberly J. Mitchell in the US indicates that up to 90% or more youths between 12 and 18 years have access to the Internet. And a vast majority of the children, 87 percent, that look for sexual images online are 14 years or older. Such inappropriate sexual materials can adversely affect children’s emotional and sexual development.

These days it is impossible to imagine a classroom, especially in Western countries to be without computers as a teaching/learning aide. In the case of Nepal, although all classrooms may not be equipped with computers, almost all children that attend schools in urban areas have easy access to them either at school or at home. So, it was interesting to read in the article, ‘Computers ok? Not in Silicon Valley’ that the Waldorf Schools - founded worldwide following the humanistic teaching approach based on the educational philosophy of the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner - do not allow the use of technology in classrooms. Students are not only discouraged from using computers at home, but at school as well. Surprisingly, many employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard, along with the chief technology officer of eBay, have sent their children to a Waldorf Primary School in Los Altos, California. The Waldorf parents argue that teaching-learning comes from great teachers with interesting lesson plans, not from computers or video games.

The war between technology advocates and traditionalists rages on - and that is going to be the case for a while yet. Sure, prudent and limited use of modern innovations such as the Internet and computers can lead to a better informed society that is fluent in the digital language. But it is just as easy for people to become hopelessly inebriated due to uncontrolled exposure. Being a part of the digital age can be a blessing or a curse - it is up to you to decide what it is going to be for you and your children.

(Published in an English Daily The Kathmandu Post on Sunday, July 26, 2015)
 [The pictures on this blog are posted here with permission from their owners or have been gathered from various sources on the Internet. If you are the copyright-holder to any of the photographs herein do not hesitate to contact me. They will be swiftly removed if desired so.]

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I would appreciate any and all suggestions on making improvements (as long as they are viable).