What Are Our Excuses, Again, For Not Putting Computers in the Hands of Our Children?

[cross-posted at The Huffington Post]

I’ve watched this TED talk by Sugata Mitra several times now. And every time I watch it, my brain keeps asking the same question:

In the world’s richest country - indeed, in all ‘Westernized’ societies - what are our (pitiful?) excuses, again, for not putting computers in the hands of our children every day at school and giving them greater agency over their own learning?

[I love the Indian child’s quote: ‘Apart from the fact that improper replication of the DNA molecule causes genetic disease, we’ve understood nothing else.’]

23 Responses to “What Are Our Excuses, Again, For Not Putting Computers in the Hands of Our Children?”

  1. I keep asking myself that question everyday.
    When will we utilize the power available to us.
    One big difference, the kids in other countries are hungry for knowledge and opportunity.

    • I think you’re mistaken on that. No matter where they’re from, kids are just as hungry for knowledge as they are in the places that have seen a computer for the first time. The problem is that in those areas they don’t have people telling them that the internet is bad, that it’s a distraction from schools or what they call “education”. People in areas where electronics and other devices are common usualy have the hunger stamped out of them, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have it to begin with.

  2. Great post, and fantastic video. Excuses? I’ve heard ’em all! Mostly it’s too … hard, and as you’ve often implied, it’s disruptive!
    I’ve listed some of the excuses I’ve heard here http://learningau.wordpress.com/2010/10/23/excuses-excuses/ but the video says it best, just gives the kids the technology and they’ll work it out!

  3. great post Scott.

    i’d like to add to it.. seems a key to his success is that he left for 3 months at a time.
    yes – let’s get resources in kids’ hands… but then let’s not try to manage it.

  4. World richest nation? America? What a joke!

    We’re trillions in debt and even China can’t keep up covering our butts.

    We’re steps away from complete economic collapse and all people can think of is what toys to put in the hands of our kids.

    It’s rather pathetic, the way people can’t accept reality by living in dream worlds as if nothing’s wrong.

      • To the present generation and to those who embrace all this pop culture-Madison Avenue pushed stuff, they are most certainly thought of toys received on a birthday or Christmas. The same anticipation and excitement is attached. You can’t deny that because of the consumerist/overly material society we live in, so invested in “having it all now.”

        Serious adults with serious aims in life look at all this with suspicion because it’s so heavily marketed to the youth market, which should automatically brand it as disposable.

  5. They learned how to record and play back their music in 4 hours? At school that would take a few weeks if not more than a marking period.

  6. Dr. McLeod,

    I’m a student at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama and as part of my EDM 310 class I have been assigned to read and comment on your blog. In fact, if you like, I invite you to have a look at my blog that I have begun for this class. http://daviswilliamprentedm310.blogspot.com/

    That being said, I agree with you that we should have a computer for every child in the classroom. In fact, there are a lot of things that we should do for our children. In a perfect world, every school district in every county in every state the United States would be as wealthy as the next. Unfortunately, it is not a perfect world, and many school districts cannot afford to put a computer on every last child’s desk — regardless of how badly they might want to. Therefore, while America may be the richest country in the Westernized world, not every corner of it can afford to do what you suggest.

  7. Keishla Ceaser-Jones Reply October 23, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    I think we are insane to think that putting computers in our students hands will magically make them AGENTS for their own learning. In our country…computers are too often associated with entertainment and connectivity, and I think that before we put technology in their hands…we have to foster a sense of WONDER in our students. And the current curriculum really does a great job of stamping out wonder.

    • Agreed that those are two separate things: 1) give ’em computers, 2) give ’em agency.

    • That’s where the “grandmother” comes in! The task, investigation, challenge, question…is key and the reason why the computer can’t replace the teacher! But it can most certainly improve learning if implemented well.

  8. “And the current curriculum really does a great job of stamping out wonder.”

    Whose curriculum are you referring to?

    It’s up to teachers to inspire wonder. A great teacher should be able to take any curriculum and make something out of it.

  9. I noticed in the talk that Dr. Mitra was only asking the students to find facts. It is one thing to find a statement of the Pythagorean Theorem on Google. It is another to use the Pythagorean Theorem to square a building.

    I was reminded about the story of William Kamkwamba, coauthor of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. He was able to build a functioning windmill to generate electricity by following a library book.

    Access to information is the issue. The internet is only one mean to that end.

  10. Not only is this a naive perspective, but also one that will not further deeper learning. Point one – all kids in K-12- this is a homogenizing and monolithic way of looking at education. Why don’t you talk about approriacy based on different ages. Universal thinking is what got us into Imperialistic thinking, be a bit more critical.

    Kids are already connected, don’t make it out to be that they don’t have access to media. Read the Kaise Foundation’s latest research and you will see the types and depth of research that is being covered. Young Americans 8-18 already spend 7 and a half hours a day with media (add another 3 hours of multiple-tasking to get the actual 10 hours they quote).

    Nice corporate vision that you have, but truly poorly informed. Sugatra Mitra’s work is not the basis for ed reform…get real.

  11. Andrew, I have not read the Kaise Foundation research you cite, but I suspect that the 7 to 10 hours a day spent online is time they spend alone at the computer, mostly for entertainment. Mitra stated clearly that his results were different because the children worked in groups and had to interact with each other in order for them to internalize and retain information and ideas.

  12. The thing that struck me about the video was that the computer situation was NOT 1-to-1, which seems to be the big push these days. There were groups of students around one computer, and it was the interaction among the group around the computer that made the learning stick.

    • Yes, I was also amazed at the new improved group activity. I have many times wished that I had one computer for everyday use. I would love for each of my students to have a computer, but I could do so much with group activities if I had say five computers in my room. This seems much more realistic with all of the budget cuts going on.

    • I, too, loved the collaboration piece. There’s a time for 1-to-1, but I don’t believe it’s needed very often…There is a reason why we meet AS A CLASS…and don’t stay at home and work alone. 🙂

  13. really fascinating perspective on the power of group work and problem solving. yes, this method did not teach children application of skills, such as the Pythagrean theorum, but it did give them opportunities with 21st century skills including analysis, synthesis,and collaboration

  14. It’s no wonder home education is booming. My wife and I took our son out of school eight years ago because self-motivated learning from the internet at home made being taught in a classroom at school seem like watching grass grow. Schools haven’t caught up yet. Who woulda thunk it?

  15. I’m confused. I see that the children could locate the information, but do they understand it and internalize it? As a media specialist/librarian in an urban district, I certainly agree that we need more computers in our schools and I am frustrated by the one laptop/one child program for poor children around the world that doesn’t even consider all the children here in the U.S. that are also in need.

    Also, remember that the social component of learning is essential. The children featured in the video worked in groups, not alone–so maybe one laptop/four children. . .

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