Only an hour remains for school to end, but the girls in the computer lab at Lady Sivaswami Ayyar Girls Higher Secondary School are not happy when the bell rings. Outside the lab, another group of girls waits, eager to rush in. “They all love to work on computers. In our times, computers had just entered the city and not many of us could get to work on them,” says R. Hemalatha, the computer teacher at the school, and also an alumnus.
Times have changed. No more do children play CD and Disc man games or make projects on Logo turtles and Basic in schools.
The focus is now on graphics and visually-aided elements, coding languages including C and C++, apart from the basic tools of Microsoft office and art applications.
Many schools follow an unstructured computer syllabus at least in the primary classes. “These include Word games, mathematical games, crosswords and presentations based on what they have learnt in other classes help,” says Sudha Suresh, vice-principal, Vidya Mandir. Children need to know that computers provide a support mechanism for the existing curriculum, says Lakshmi Suryanarayana, director, Olcott Memorial High School. “They can be put to better use if children learn them after they know to read and write, and are comfortable identifying their flair for it,” she says, adding that “not everyone needs to know everything about Excel or Word.” Children should be allowed to decide what is relevant for them.
Most schools now have separate teachers trained in MS tools or tools such as Tally to teach computers in schools. While a 45-minute period everyday is common in many schools, a two-hour-a week schedule is preferred by some.
While noted schools are focussing on tie-ups with education service providers to provide professional, age-appropriate computer education to their students, others are marshalling resources too from various sectors. “Till last year, students used to take turns since we did not have enough computers, now with useful donations by companies, we ensure one computer per student at a time,” says Ruby Puthotta, head mistress, Lady Sivaswami Ayyar Girls' Higher Secondary School.
However, Kanchana T., coordinator, Science Olympiad Foundation, says the problem lies with the fact that most computer syllabus still focuses on the study of programming languages. “The focus should be more on application-oriented learning that includes downloading software, video-cutting, among other things. It is equally important for teachers to allow children to explore the computer on their own, get their results in the initial years,” she says. And while it may be difficult for Tamil medium students, it is also up to schools and computer teachers to not make the teaching English-centred, says Ms. Suryanarayana.
However, many computer teachers also feel that though computers have become indispensable to curriculum, teaching computers is being viewed as merely imparting skills - equivalent to teaching crafts. “We are still not considered on par with teachers of other subjects, and are paid by schools individually with no regulation on salaries,” says Anuradha Sankaran, a computer teacher in a government-aided school.
The sad part, however, is that most schools train students to view computers just as a tool, and not as something that can do what they want by executing logical commands, says Anantharaman Mani, CEO, Visual Data Insights, that provides computer solutions to schools.
“Simple games that involve programming for children, such as making the computer select balls that are yellow would help them understand that computers are much more than advanced type writers,” he says.