Michal Hanuka 08/01/2001
What is life but one long series of problems, waiting to be solved? Day after day people make decisions regarding which route to take to work, what kind of food to eat for lunch, how to solve an argument with a friend, how to react to the unpredictable. A world full of motion, change and surprises often makes us ask "What should we do?' "How do we go about it?" simply put, "How do we get from A to B?"
It is no wonder then that problem solving skills is the top priority of most of the educational systems in the world. Children, who enter school at the tender age of six, their minds ready to be influenced, shaped, modeled, develop different thinking abilities which will determine how successful they will be as grown ups when confronted by problems that demand a solution (Gardner 249). Computers, which have been introduced to the classrooms in recent years, (used to teach children about computers or used as teaching aids for different subjects from math to history) have proven to be great tools for educators as they advance the development of children problem solving skills.
The US educational system "key responsibility to [it's] graduates is to send them into the world adequately prepared to live and work"(McCaine & Jukes). In the beginning of the twenty first century, in the ever developing world of saturated technology, children will need to enhance their, as Ted McCaine defines, technological reasoning skills, (or what Howard Gardner refers to as logical-mathematical intelligence which, simply put, develop analytical approaches to problem solving) in order to be able to truly survive a world dominated by computers. That specific problem skill needs to be emphasized in order for the children of today are successful in the future. There is nothing new in the fact that the modern school system in the US is heavily investing in the logical-mathematical form of intelligence. In the past fifty years schools have gradually put less and less emphasize on linguistic forms and had began to concentrate on logical mathematical forms of thinking. (Gardner 345) Computers simply seem the next natural step.
Learning with computers, about computers and programming computers has proven to do wonders to children's minds. "It provides a field for developing and practicing problem-solving skills in an environment that is at once engaging and challenging" (Casey). Children develop highly analytical skills of gathering and organizing information, planning, reasoning and decision-making while simply having fun. It seems that "the computer is perfectly configured to teach [problem solving]... learning a skill requires practice, reinforcement, repetition and reintroduction in different forms and settings so that the children thoroughly understand and master it before they lose interest" (Whitebread)
The emphasize on logical-mathematical intelligence is balanced by after school activities. Children, of course, do not spend every waking moment in school, disconnected from the rest of the world. The development of thinking process in children is influenced not only by the school "environment" but also by the after-school "environment", which includes their parents, after school activities and nature. These together, have been acting as a balancing force for the development of children thinking process for the past fifty years (Gardner 345). While school has been slowly moving towards the logical-mathematical intelligence, it was left up to the parents to develop other skills, such as reading and writing, physical fitness and the arts, all of them developing a more abstract form of thinking.
What happens, however, when the after school "environment" becomes the same as the school one? Recent studies show that children eight years and older spend more then six hours a day tuned into "electronical media", which includes television and the world wide web, but the biggest portion of this time is spent on playing video and computer games. Children today read less, hardly engage in any physical activity, art, or simply going outside to take a walk in the park(Elias.)
This phenomenon may seem alarming at first, but a look at recent IQ test scores might calm down any worried parent. Ten years old children today score an average of fifteen points higher then children their age fifty years ago. This amazing change has been mainly attributed to computers, and yes, video games (Elias.)
"These children and million like them get more then amusement from intensive electronic play: they acquire new ways of learning. They're honing special graphics and motor skills. They can process huge amounts of visual information in parallel. On a daily basis, they scope out new games, grasp the operating rules, navigate bewildering 3-D geographies and jump through abstract mental hoops with concentration usually reserved for competitive test-taking".(Gross)
The computerized world, both in and outside classes, has indeed provided the children growing up today with analytical problem solving skills much more sophisticated then their parents. But this achievement, this profit, does not come without a price.
What do children lose when they stop reading? Stop moving? Stop experiencing the world throughout physical touch? They lose expressive and communication skills, the experience of the imaginary life, of the creative life (L.Gardner). A computer program can be highly interactive, it can teach children to paint, to write music, it can even be an acting partner, but it could never compare to the real experience of life. Computers are machines. Machines with limits constructed by mathematical formulas based on repetition. What are video games but a visual exercise of reaching a conclusion as fast as possible, based on a pattern, based on a formula? Once a child discovers the pattern with in the game, he or she, wins. The real problem with computers is that the world the computer games and programs present, the world inside the computers, is highly limited. It is essentially a series of numbers, of straight line, which offers one way and one way only to go from one point to another, when there is nothing behind those points. These are good skills to develop when interacting with a video game, not with human beings. Life, after all, is never as simple as a video game.
By developing problem solving skills children develop different ways to interact with the world around them, with each other, with the human spirit and mind. Computers can not possibly teach that as they offer a constructed world of rules, in which the child can engage in very specific way, which are completely different then those the child employees when socializing. "What computers select for amplification is the technological mind-set that reduces problem solving to a matter of basing social-policy decision on data" (Browers). A child can not react to the world while making his or her decisions on a straight line that goes from A to B, on a narrow mathematical formula.
By the nature of the medium, develop the "intrapersonal rater then the interpersonal forms of understanding" (Gardner 363). A child, whether in a class room using a computer to study history, or at home surfing the world wide web, is essentially alone in the experience, even when the child interacts with others by using the computer, he or she never interact with something physical, something real. (In that sense, even when a child is interacting with nature or people by virtual reality programs, he or she is merely interacting with a computer, alone). The combined nature of the medium itself, and the fact that it only developed one particular problem solving skill, that can not obviously solve any irregular problems may cause problems in the social development of the child.
As some researches have begin show that children today are simply much more lonelier, it is not clear how big the impact of computers is on both socializing skills and problem solving skills; however, at this point in time it is clear that a computer program can not replace the real physical experience of things (Healy) But what happens if years from now, new virtual reality games will provide with a real experience of human contact? What if the computerized world becomes so advanced that it can easily replace any activity outside it? Aren't we in that sense, doing justice to our children by simply preparing them to interact and think like computers?
Machines are nothing less then parts put together, being manipulated by a human being, a human mind. It is not the other way around. Why do we then insist on celebrating the fact that the children of today are so well advanced in their analytical skills, when all we give them is one way to deal with the world, the way of machines? The sad reality is that today as we surround children with computers "we are getting kids to think inside the box instead of outside." (Arbor)
By giving children computers in many ways we offer them the world, they can travel to different places on the World Wide Web, they can experience different things through virtual reality, and they can reach people they would have never known otherwise. But what is the use of giving them a plane to travel with all around the world, if we give them no tools to make sense of it, understand it, and celebrate it? Not much. It is a shame that while broadening their world we narrow their way of undesratanding it.
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Bowers, C.A. The Cultural Dimensions of Educational Computing: Understanding the Non Neutrality of Technology. New York, Columbia University, 1997
Casey J. Patrick. "Computer Programming: A Medium for Teaching Problem Solving." Computers in School. January 1997, Val 13
Elias, Marilyn. "Pop Culture Gets Credit for IQ Gains." USA TODAY Apr 23, 1997
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Gardner, Lyan. "Education: Art & Soul". The Guardian Oct 10, 2000.
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