Monday, May 22, 2006

Misplaced Computer Education Concepts - Pictures of a computer do not a computer make.

My father, the educational consultant that he is, was invited to address the staff and students of a rural private school in the Shimoga district of Karnataka state in India. The school was being funded by well-to-do philanthropists who were eager to see the school bloom as an eminent institution. I accompanied him on this trip of his. Situated in an idyllic rural setting, the school building was quite imposing with a large playground for kids and well-equipped classrooms. I must say, I was pretty delighted to see a school with such amenities in an interior region of the state. 250 kids were studying in the institution that had classes up to 7th grade.

The keynote address to teachers and students done, we were provided some refreshments by the school committee chairman and he invited us to take a round of the school. We came across one particular room that the principal announced was the computer lab. We were quite elated on hearing that the school also had computer facilities and followed them inside. The walls were adorned with labeled diagrams that explained the different parts of a computer, the 3.5" floppy disk and the long obsolete 5.25" diskette. However I could not find a single computer console. I was perturbed. I asked the chairman in the group about the computers. Without showing the slightest the embarrassment, he replied, "The students do not require them now. We just teach them the parts of the computer. In case we had them, the students will spoil them in no time by plucking at the keyboard or playing with the mouse. Hence we have not purchased them".

I went numb with anger and surprise. A computer lab with not a trace of a computer. At least a non-functional system for the students to relate parts of the computer in the diagram, the CPU, the mouse, the monitor, etc with a real life computer. I looked at my Dad. He was equally put off. He finally reasoned that there was no point giving them a passionate speech of their misplaced concepts of computer education. He started reasoning with them on their approach and I joined in too. After about 30 minutes of debate, they started seeing light in what we were pointing at. You cannot instill a real love for computers among kids by showing them pictures of computers. Allow them a free hand at computers and see them bloom. When they realize the value that computers add to their lives, they will automatically start respecting the system. I even quoted the "Hole in the Wall" experiment conducted by NIIT in the slums of New Delhi. I even added ( a bit rude of me, I must say) that they could adopt the Kyan tutor system in case they were still worried about children spoiling computers. They profusely thanked us both for enlightening them and promised that they will place orders for computers the same week.

We returned home, half elated on being able to guide a few people who would provide the biggest boon to their school in the coming weeks, but also heavy with the gnawing thought of how many educational institutions in our country are run by such individuals who do not mind spending on schools but fail to get the much needed guidance.

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