Kids must learn to do­mes­ti­cate, then con­trol tech­nol­ogy

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

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.

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