Nancy's Columns

Computers in Early Education

Under topic: computers

Dr. Jane Healy, author of "Endangered Minds" has just written another important book for parents titled, "Failure to Compute: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds -- for Better and Worse". Dr. Healy, in her well researched book, questions whether computers are doing more harm than good for children's development.

Over a two year period, Dr. Healy visited numerous schools and homes in order to understand the effect computers are having on the developing mind of the young child. She was discouraged to observe ill-informed software choices, inadequate teacher preparation, children engaged in idle clicking, game-playing and silly surfing when they could more profitably be spending their time elsewhere, lack of relevance to curriculum and expensive equipment neglected, obsolete or ill-used.

computers tend to narrow sensory experience when children should be practicing intersensory integration

All of these observations caused her concern, but her greatest concern was the fact that many educators ignore the developmental levels of their students when they introduce computers into the curriculum. What is appropriate for a fifteen year old is not appropriate for a six year old.

When developmental levels are ignored, damage may be done to the developing mind of the young child.

Educators and parents are being seduced by computer advertising that implies their children will fall behind if they are not computer literate NOW. They do not mention what happens to the rest of the child while he is engaged in front of the computer. Carpal tunnel syndrome being the one physical problem we presently are aware of.

The other problem may be that the developing brain of the child --which requires physical, verbal, and social interactions and a three-dimensional learning environment-- may be at risk since sitting in front of a computer screen does not involve any of these activities.

Dr. Healy discovered that some educators were willing to admit that up to 85 percent of current software was not only worthless but may be damaging. One study found a reduction in children's creativity scores when they were taught reading- readiness through a computer program.

Preschool and primary learning environments may be in greatest jeopardy by the misuse of computers. To mention a few problems explored in this book: computers tend to narrow sensory experience when children should be practicing intersensory integration; too much time with electronic teachers risks passive learning; children do not learn selective attention rather they may become stimulus bound; computers make the pictures and the children do not develop a working memory i.e. the ability to juggle a number of ideas and thoughts at the same time; when they just push buttons, they do not learn to think logically which requires formulating a plan and testing the consequences; children may not be motivated to learn unless they receive rewards like those built into every computer program.

Dr. Healy feels strongly that introducing very young children to computers will not help them to surge ahead of those not blessed with such technology. It may do them a disservice. They may become slaves to their machines rather than masters. To become masters they must first develop their intellect, the habits of reflection, creativity, interpersonal skills, and internal motivation. These habits come only from real-world experiences and good human teaching in a meaningful social context.

I highly recommend this book published by Simon and Schuster for all those who are concerned about the developing minds of the young children in their care.

First published in 1999