Technology in schools – children and computers

Earlier this year I had the privilege of travelling to India to attend a meeting of the secretaries of education for each state organised by the National Institute for Open Schooling and the Commonwealth of Learning. The focus of that meeting was to look at ways in which the NIOS could work with the Open Schools in each state to address the needs of the more than 50 million students (estimated) who aren’t even attending school! My contribution was to share the model of video conferencing clusters in NZ, and the development of the NZ Virtual Learning Network.

I was interested then, to read an article titled Technology in schools – children and computers which details the progress to date of a large scale project funded by the Azim Premji Foundation, aimed at addressing the the complex problem of reaching out to children in rural elementary schools in India – described int he paper as a logistic and linguistic challenge.

The article three phases of this project to date which started in 2001 with the development of child-centric content aimed at actively engaging children in learning using ICT. Much use is being made of single and multi-player games.

The first stage involved establishing computer facilitities in 35 rural schools, which was expanded in stage two to involve a partnership with the state government resulting in more than 180 centres being established in the 27 districts of hte state.

The third stage involves putting computers in villages – setting the scene for the fourth stage which will be to scale the approach nationally.

There are many things in this paper that parallel the interests and concerns we have here in NZ – the need to provide equitable access and opportunity for children in rural areas, the pedagogical issues of teaching at a distance, involvement of community and sustainable resourcing models.

Of interest also are the research claims that appear to demonstrate “improvements in social intelligence, social behaviour, communication and motivation in most children” as a result of these sorts of interventions.

Certainly provides a useful international insight – however, I remain concerned at the premise upon which the project is based: at the heart of all transactions is the CONTENT. Yes, content is important, but what about collaboration, community, interaction, invention, content development etc?

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