Kids must learn to domesticate, then control technology
We spend an average of 8.4 hours staring at screens every day, about 1.6 times more than the average of 5.3 hours we spent in 2007, based on a recent survey conducted by the Ophthalmology Society of Taiwan. This excessive time spent on computers and handheld devices has led to soaring problems with eyesight, including cataracts and blindness, doctors of the society said. As we celebrate World Sight Day today, it is an occasion to again draw global attention to vision impairment potentially caused by the ever- growing number of wireless mobile devices that surround us. World Sight Day is also a day to remember the millions of people around the world who in the past year have been diagnosed with vision problems -- for example 285 million in 2010, of which nearly 80 percent of conditions were preventable.
In Taiwan, an increasing number of students are nearsighted in elementary school and run the risk of severe nearsightedness when they grow up. Accordingly, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has long recommended that children have a minimum of two hours of outdoor activity each day, and warned parents that before the age of two, children should avert all contact with electronic devices. Afterwards, usage should be kept within one hour per day. Users should maintain a distance of 35 to 45 centimeters from their devices and take a 10- minute break for every 30 minutes of use, experts suggest. Yet, do you know any children in Taiwan who spend that much time outdoors? Have you ever tried to ask your children to shut down their smartphones every 30 minutes? It is probably easier said than done.
We know the arguments against technology. Yes, we agree that children should have a hands- on experience that focuses on cultivating spiritual, intellectual and emotional capacities as well as teaching the values of patience and independent thought. At the same time, we want them to learn interpersonal skills, social development and empathy in order to build relationships that will stand the test of time. We also hope that our kids won’t be disconnected from reality, meaning being prone to focus on those away from them instead of those close to them. As technology improves, our physical existence does not equate to our actual presence anymore, and we also don’t want underage people to run the risk of having their personal information stolen.
In the “best of all possible worlds,” however, shouldn’t we let children use the best tools ever created to learn instead of hiding all handheld devices from them? Should we help improve their learning skills starting from school while giving them the free time they surely need after class ends? By integrating new technologies in the classroom, we have a unique chance to make individual learning possible while allowing students to improve their social skills in a group. Technology can also be an inspiration for children. It can actually bolster their creativity and innovation. Take the example of Thomas Suarez, a 12- year- old boy who taught himself to build iPhone apps. Thomas Suarez’s interest in technology and programming led him to learn Python, Java, and the C language “just to get the basics down.” He already built his own company to help other kids who are interested in technology.
In this information age in which technology is the key to success, we believe that technology could be a new way of education. It could help children to develop a more independent learning ability instead of letting them be enslaved by the increasingly complex technical challenges of science. In this new environment, teachers should be the mentors for children’s technology- learning so that they can spend more time in outdoor activities. Once their curiosity is satisfied or when they would be well- entertained by developing apps ( instead of playing with them) on their smartphones. By making learning more individual through technology, we believe that we can decrease children’s workload and give them the time to enjoy the outdoors every afternoon.