Getting Children Hooked on Technology

There is a big movement for governments to get kids hooked on technology.  While I appreciate the initiatives it’s important to realize not every kid is going to get hooked.  People are different and they need to be free to choose their own path.  Getting exposure to it is different than forcing it.

I remember being a freshman in college.  I would go to the computer lab to try and figure out how to make it work.  Rarely was anyone in the lab.  They had a dot matrix printer and a few Apple II computers along with a couple of IBM’s. I didn’t know how to code.  I didn’t know BASIC even.  Most importantly, there was no one to mentor me.

The state of Maine was proactive in the effort to get kids hooked on tech.

The Maine Learning Technology Initiative was one of the earliest and largest efforts to bridge that divide. Starting in 2002, it provided a laptop to every seventh and eighth grade student in Maine. It now distributes about 66,000 devices annually, including some to teachers, at a total cost of about $11.5 million per year.

How’d that work out?

Well, it’s tough to make the correlation but test scores in Maine haven’t improved at all. What they didn’t track is what kids did after high school.  For example, prior to 2002, what percentage of kids went into computer science or engineering in college?  Post giving the subsidy it would have been nice to compare data like that.  Additionally, where did they locate after graduation from college?

There are a lot of problems with public school education in America.  Spending more money on education isn’t the answer.  Spending money and forcing kids to go to school earlier isn’t the answer.  Public education has too much overhead and way too much centralized bureaucracy.  Spending more money on equipment that has a limited lifespan isn’t the answer either.  Computers and other electronic devices are a depleting asset like automobiles.

The other thing to recognize is the game has changed.  We all know about the mobile revolution.  That’s driven down the cost of accessing powerful apps that can help you in school and teach you tech.  When I was in college, there was no place to find hackers online because there was no online.  Distance learning is significantly tougher but at least it’s available.

That’s one of the cool things I love about Brilliant.  Brilliant has a mobile app for your phone.  Teachers are using it in classrooms all over the world.  Organically, they have built a community of millions that help each other.  Now they are rolling out modules for people so they can learn artificial intelligence, computer science, artificial neural networks, and machine learning.  Boy, I wish Brilliant would have been around when I was visiting that college lab trying to figure out how to make computers work before there was a GUI interface.

Maybe it’s best to let Brilliant speak for themselves.  Here are their core principles.

“A significantly greater number of students fail science, engineering and math courses that are taught lecture-style than fail in classes incorporating so-called active learning that expects them to participate in discussions and problem-solving beyond what they’ve memorized.”

— Enough with the lecturing, National Science Foundation

Our principles for learning

  1. If you are excited, then you will learn quickly.

    The greatest challenges to education are disinterest and apathy.

  2. Questions that cultivate curiosity are better than lectures.

    Research validates what our common sense tells us—that lectures are an ineffective way to learn something new.

  3. Effective learning is active, not passive.

    Moving from ignorance to understanding is an intellectual contact sport. Watching a video is not enough.

  4. It is essential to apply what you’re learning as you learn it.

    Use it or lose it—to learn effectively, reduce the time between being exposed to a new idea and applying it.

  5. The threat of a test can’t deliver the results that genuine interest can.

    People who want to learn will naturally seek out the concepts and intuition that form the foundation of true learning, rather than cramming facts and formulas.

  6. Community matters.

    It is a critical part of education to exchange ideas and be inspired by a community that challenges you.

  7. Your age is a poor way to determine what you are capable of learning.

    Standards are seductive, but the reality is that people are developmentally different.

  8. A great education should encourage failure.

    The difference between a good student and a great student is that great students allow themselves to fail. Failure is a necessary part of the process of challenging yourself to think at your limit.

  9. A great education equips you to tackle new and unfamiliar problems.

    Eventually, the contrived problems end and we must solve problems in the world. Critical thinking is the skill we grow when confronting unfamiliar problems, and is the most valuable part of an education.

  10. People who emerge from a great education seek to define problems and not merely solve the ones they’re given.

    The culmination of a great education is not having all the answers, but knowing what to ask.

Perhaps instead of giving children hardware, we ought to be pointing them in the direction of free applications like Brilliant.  If those apps charge some extras for certain things, perhaps it would be cheaper to pay for the extras to the kids that are interested in them.