Computers : How much is too much?
Making children as young as six computer savvy does not give them an edge. It might hamper their socialisation skills
Vibha Sharma

Knowingly or unknowingly, children do overwhelm the lives of parents and elieve it is more true with this e-generation. One main area that has always been in the domain of doubt and mistrust is the technology itself. Television, computers, phones, tabs, video games? When? How soon? How frequently? How much is more and how much is less? A software professional, donning the hat of a parent for the last 10 years, one has often questioned many changes that have replaced the good old over this decade. Needless to say, almost all of these have been centred around children.

It came as a news to me that from Class I, kids will have computer as a subject in the school. And one wonders, what are they supposed to learn in first grade? I saw the textbook which was barely 20 pages long and it felt as if maximum effort had gone behind scantily filling even those 20 pages. My questioning mind asked again — what is the purpose?

By the end of first five grades, students are supposed to ace these things — identify various parts of a computer, know the definitions of very basic computer terminology, know about the evolution of computers, work on some tools like MS Word, Paint Brush, Excel, Logo and such similar things.

Computers should be banned from schools until kids reach the age of nine. We risk infantilising the child's mind by spoon-feeding it with strong audiovisual sensations and subverting the development of children’s cognitive skills.
childcare specialist and a psychologist, Dr Aric Sigman

What do we expect children to accomplish? Are they supposed to give a Power Point presentation on trends in school by the end of the fifth grade, or to make a Word document on the research they have undertaken so far or to prepare an excel sheet on the expenses on their studies? And at what cost? The 40-minute period once, twice or thrice a week could have been used in letting the child loose in nature's lap to explore with yet another pair of fresh eyes or just playing using his body or (and) mind or getting lost in the world of a book, to name just a few.

Research has proved that long hours on computers hampers the ability of a child to pay attention for sustained periods. Attention span damage is not a simple problem, it in fact leads to many monstrous complications — not being able to focus on one thing, not able to listen to the teacher during the class time, not able to follow methodical instructions for a longer time and not able to read. These are just some offshoots of this seemingly minor issue.

One argument that is often offered in favour of computer usage is that a huge array of helpful software is available which helps children develop language, math and many other skills. Are we not making our own race more soft by providing them easily available solutions with minimum effort? What is the problem in learning things the regular way: Building language skills and vocabulary by referring to dictionaries and thesauruses, working on math problems mentally or with pencil and paper, understanding scientific concepts by actually experimenting and observing?

Moreover, can clicking fast or efficiently at the age of 10 be a substitute to having a beautiful handwriting? Is subjecting young eyes to stare at the high-powered screen, not a matter of concern? Shouldn’t small fingers be working on holding, stacking, measuring things rather than punching keys? Should understanding phonics be replaced with spell-check enabled software?

The impact does not remain contained to these obvious areas. It entwines many other things. The fascination of something constantly changing on the screen is such that it leads to infatuation for other screens sooner than later, be it a tab or a mobile phone or video games. There is no looking back then, and a child who should be learning social skills in the real world early on tends to enjoy socialising in the virtual world more. This is a guaranteed way to curb imagination, creativity and sensitivity towards one's environment.

It is unfathomable why we as parents, or as policy makers in the education system, aim to expedite things, be it education, awareness or competition. We need to clearly understand that it is wrong to bombard a fledgling mind with too much too soon, let the mind get formed first and be strong enough to receive that much information. Though not a childcare specialist myself, but still would want to make a statement that the age to introduce computers can easily be pushed to a couple of years further than nine too. This is for the overall health and happiness of the child as well as that of the society.