My son is currently studying in grade IX in a private school and has taken computer science in lieu of Biology. His school like many others offer computer studies/science as a major subject. Since last six years, I have been reviewing the textbooks being used for teaching computer studies and my frustration and disappointment in what is being taught has led me to write on this topic.

Since grade IV till now, the students are expected to know difference between RAM and ROM. They are asked to write the advantages and disadvantages of computers. They are taught to use Microsoft Word and Excel through snapshots in textbooks. They are asked to define the difference between application software and programming software. Computer labs and libraries are being used as a sacred space, where once in a week students are provided an opportunity to learn application software. Interestingly, the textbooks are made more colourful with almost the same content over the years. I strongly believe and recommend to rethink this model of teaching and learning computers and stop wasting time of our younger generation.

Computer literacy has now been redefined as digital literacy and fluency. According to Cornell University, digital literacy is the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.”

That means digital literacy, by this definition, involves learning of wide range of skills, all of which are necessary to succeed in an increasingly digital world. So now is the time not to review how digital literacy and fluency should be taught in schools, but relooking at computer labs as real labs for research, exploration and discovery. I strongly recommend to remove one period a week from existing schedules and convert computer labs into an open learning space.  Following reasons backs this recommendation.

Learning has become multidisciplinary and collaborative

It is said that schools prepare children for future and real life. One of my mentors Claude Alvares shared, we teach the future generation about real life, by confining them to a boundary wall and classroom during their 12 major years of life. We teach students to protect our environment by cutting a tree, converting it into desk, chair and books. The confinement also has further compartments where disciplines are broken into subjects being taught in a fragmented way. We all know that our lives are multidisciplinary, learning is also multidisciplinary. Digital technologies have the potential to tap into this aspect of learning and providing opportunity to develop higher order thinking in an interdisciplinary way. With technologies, project based learning or problem based learning is the way to harness multiple faculties of our children.

Collaborative learning does not only mean working together in groups within the campus, but expanding this collaboration outside classrooms and connecting with other spaces of real life. Dr. Sujata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, England has done an innovative experiment called “hole in the wall” which is then expanded to his recommendation of building a school in the cloud has helped educators broaden their understanding about collaboration and collaborative learning. He has also helped educators to learn that kids can teach themselves with the power of digital technology.

Digital technologies have the potential for creative expression

Ask the employers anywhere around the world, what is one of the most important skills they want to have in their employers, their response would be creativity. Look around and see all the tech entrepreneurs from creators of Google, YouTube, Uber and Airbnb what they are doing with digital technologies, generating creative and productive ideas. Look at Pixar and other animation studios and witness the height of creativity in their products.  Digital technologies have be potential for creative idea generation and expression. Why waste time in using computers for “drill and practice” only.

Content has become mobile and accessible

The times we are living in, learning and the way we work and learn have become increasingly mobile. Accessibility to information is no more an issue. Yes digital divide may exist, however, penetration of mobile phones have opened a number of possibilities to learn. Frankly content as a matter of fact more updated contents compared to the one available in the textbooks can now be carried in the pockets. However, dealing with this content, making sense out of it, separating what is bad, good and harmful content is a skill which is required. Now is the time to help students become media and information literate. Information literacy is defined as the ability to understand how to integrate relevant and appropriate information with what they already know to construct new knowledge… to resolve needs related to specific situations that have arisen (Dorner and Gorman, 2009). Kanwal Ameen & Gary Gorman (2009) added: locate, access and use digital information in a networked environment.

Therefore, there is an opportunity to help students take advantage of it, become information literate and facilitate them to become lifelong learners.

Teaching about computers through Textbook is a highly outdated idea

The rate and pace of technology is drastic and is changing very fast. No one could have imagined the concepts like self-driven cars, 3D printing, artificial intelligence and robotics would become a reality of everyday lives. Teaching about computers through textbook? Does it really required? Do our student need to spend an entire year, once a week class to learn Microsoft word, PowerPoint and excel. These could be learnt in a 15 day summer camp or self-learnt using videos available on YouTube. Can it become paperless and more project based approach taken to help students learn the applied ways to use these tools?

It is okay for schools to  market the availability of high tech computer labs as an opportunity to get more admissions. But, computers or digital technologies are not an end, but a means towards an end, that is to help students become lifelong learners. Late Steve Jobs, who pioneered and executed the program of donating computers in schools once said “I used to think that technology could help education. I’ve probably spearheaded giving away more computer equipment to schools than anybody else on the planet. But I’ve had to come to the inevitable conclusion that the problem is not one that technology can hope to solve. What’s wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology. No amount of technology will make a dent.”