Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Equipping the Children

MUA AND FRIENDS VISIT SOUTH AFRICAN SCHOOL CHILDREN! Some months ago, we talked about getting game systems for our kids, what would give us the best value in terms of ease of use and family friendliness. We reminisced about how we had fun using decidedly non-technical bits and pieces, and odds and ends. Times have changed. Now play has a very electronic bent with all the associated benefits and all the new risks.

However, while that is about entertainment, education and childhood development equally have taken on an electronic bent. In order to have a leg up in the world we live in today, we absolutely need to have our kids start on computers at an early age. Look at it the same way we look at the utterly essential “3 R’s””: Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. Many of us nearly drove our parents batty as they tried to get us to string complete words together without misspelling or turning letters back to front. They underwent that self-torture because they realised how the ability to read and write clear correct English (though it could have been any other language) was foundational to academic and life success.

Similarly, we need to give the same kind of energy into raising our children today as “digital natives”. Digital natives are people who grew up with information technology tools and toys. People who grow up this way are quick to grasp and adapt to the rapidly changing pace of technology. They seem to have an intuitive understanding of how they are used and how they can be modified or manipulated to do almost anything. The thing about raising your kid as a digital native is that it will put him or her on a level playing field with other digital natives around the world.

So what do we need to do? First of all get the tyke a computer - and I don’t mean one of those bizarre pretend laptops with the 3 inch LCD screens and blocky graphics. I mean an honest-to-goodness PC (though you could actually do pretty much say similar things about the iPhone/iPod Touch and similar devices). You can get a perfectly adequate one for well under fifty thousand naira. Secondly, we need to get them the right software. The immediate thought that comes to mind is straight-up educational material. While all that is good, the computer is a complete experience for education, entertainment, and communication. In getting software for a system, all this needs to be kept in mind.

Third is an internet connection. At the heart of today’s computer-based society is the internet and all it has to offer. Of course there are risks and we will talk about them one day, but for the most part, with some simple precautions, your kids can be safe on the internet. The internet provides access to a huge volume of material for children that are great to help them grow. Over the next few days, I will point us at some of them.

All these are just tools. Now you have to sit with the kid and help him or her over the learning curve for the system itself, then the learning curves of the various programs and websites that you have validated. After all, the computer is just the tool, the software on top and the internet technologies are the things that are real value. You also need to set clear time boundaries on how long they can use a computer per day. Give them time limited projects and assignments, do the projects with them.

As you continue to do stuff like this, you will be providing your child what is needed to be prepared for the digital world we live in.


Image courtesy of Maritime Union of Australia at www.flickr.com