Clicking away for the wrong reasons

The engrossing world of appsCannot be a permanent escape for our children

The engrossing world of appsCannot be a permanent escape for our children  

Are apps and modern gizmos really necessary in school life? ARCHANA NATHAN finds that there are teachers and parents who are wondering if they are being used for the right goals

In June earlier this year, a group of parents questioned the management of The Sri Chaitanya Techno School in Bengaluru on their decision to introduce tablets for children from class three onwards. The school’s proposal meant that every child studying in any class between three and seven would have to buy a tablet into which the school would load the syllabus-- a replacement for the textbook. Parents opposed this move citing a number of reasons ranging from internet and technology addiction to the sheer cost of buying the gadget.

Gouri Kamath, a parent, was part of this protest and nearly five months later, she and other parents are still opposing the move, for the school is refusing to withdraw the decision. “Why are they forcing every child to possess a tablet? Aren’t our children already addicted to technology? Isn’t there merit in the traditional chalk and talk anymore?” Gouri asks.

The private school’s decision to introduce tabs in schools is extreme, but frankly not that shocking, considering the current trend in education. There is today, an app for everything. And literally so. An app for tracking the child, to intimate the parent about the child’s progress, to help the child understand his lessons better, a video that explains a chapter in under five minutes, one for the teacher, the parent and more, and more.

That technology is omnipresent in some children’s lives in India is a given today. Most of them are handed a tablet or a smart phone by their parents to keep busy. In their hands, the tablet or the phone offers a range of options- a game, a cartoon or an educational video. Then there are those who privately have subscribed to these education apps and platforms. This is mostly done to “better” the performance of the child in school, say both parents and app providers.

Jyotsna Nair, Principal, National Public School, Koramangala, Bengaluru, likens all of this to a craze. “When the VCRs came in, most people latched on to it. This is similar,” she says.

The option, however, is not to say a blanket no to all of them but to engage with them; to examine the role that these apps and platforms play within the existing education system.

Nair feels that an education app can only be an add-on feature. “It is true that one must change with the times. Technology does help make lessons interactive and improves the understanding and recall quotient in a child. But one cannot depend on these apps alone. Traditional classroom interaction is crucial for our children to develop better inter-personal relationships,” she explains.

Lakshmi Padmanabhan, a teacher at Prakriya Green Wisdom School feels that platforms surely do have their advantages. “A teacher in today’s information dominated world cannot know enough about everything. So both children and teachers can turn to even a basic platform like Google Search for certain concepts -- the intricacies of a cell membrane, to give you an example. Children who want to know more about a particular topic are bound to log on, read and watch more anyway,” she says.

Educators today feel, therefore, that there is a need to devise a method through which technology can helpfully interact with the classroom, without disrupting the child’s health and social skills. In other words, there is a need for a balance.

And as a parent, Gouri feels that perhaps this balance is what is missing today. She also feels that some of the arguments made in favour of technology for children are deeply misguided. “They say schools are boring and apps, tabs and platforms will make it interesting for our children. Schools are portrayed to be boring because we are putting so much pressure on our children to score marks, to come first and overall, to cram as much information as possible. Isn’t a school or a teacher supposed to teach you how to lead a life? The subject, the chapters and the exams are important but not an end in themselves. Can an app teach values to my child?” she asks.

Gouri acknowledges that an app today plays the role of sharpening the performance of a child. “But do we really need that? Are we producing machines or individuals? Frankly, what will happen if a child does not understand a particular concept? Why aren’t we comfortable with that outcome?” she adds.

The solution of course is not to say no to technology or the apps again. For even if schools themselves do not adopt an app or a tab in their class, the gadget enters the classroom in other ways say educators. When asked to draw something in the art class, Lakshmi says she often finds pencil and hand-drawn variations of robots and characters seen on Youtube videos. Nair says the impact is deeper than that. “Teachers today are struggling to hold children’s attention. It is almost impossible to make children do anything mundane. They are used to interactive and interesting platforms, but shouldn’t we as educators also teach them that life is not always like this? One has to learn to be part of the mundane and experience life’s drudgery. You have to tell them that life is boring sometimes but you still have to do it,” she explains.

The digital divide

Despite the peculiar conundrum that technology seems to have put educators in, ultimately, this is still a problem restricted to a few they say. A significant portion of children are still far removed from this world of apps. “This is easily visible in schools where there are children who are admitted under RTE. We try to conduct bridge courses but what about conversations they have between each other? Their worlds are often really far apart. RTE children are often seen playing outside in the garden,” says Lakshmi.

“The gap between the private school and government school children was anyway shocking to begin with. It has perhaps gotten wider with the advent of digital tools,” adds Nair.

“I would have preferred to put my child in a government school. But the truth is that I’m not happy with the quality of education there. These apps and a few private schools seem to be exploiting this weakness of parents of not having a credible good and affordable alternate public education model. They treat us like money-giving machines. I’ll pay up but not at the cost of my child,” says Gouri.

“To be clear, we are not against technology but it needs to be applied in the right proportion and for the right reasons,” she adds.

The solution of course is not to say no to technology or the apps. Even if schools themselves do not adopt an app or a tab in their class, the gadget enters the classroom in other ways say educators

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