Monday, November 11, 2013

Education: 'The Tussle Between Tradition And Technology'

By Dr. Shelly Ahmed (Star Guest Writer)

'Urban children swapped their toys for gizmos a while ago. Now, schools in Mumbai are bringing gadgets into the classroom for children as young as two. Is integrating technology with learning really the way forward? Shikha Kumar finds out.'

As you walk through the corridors and peek into the classrooms, you see students bending their little heads over their iPods and iPads some are keenly typing while others have earphones plugged in. This isn’t leisure time, however.

At the Universal School in Tardeo, technology is a way of life. Students at the school are introduced to gadgets at the tender age of two. They use iPods till Class 2, iPads and personal Macbooks take its place in consequent years.
The day I visit the school, it’s iPod day  which the school celebrates every October 23, the day when the iPod was first unveiled in 2001. While students in the pre-primary section (playgroup, nursery, junior and senior kindergarten) identify animal sounds using a farm song app, those in Class 2 solve addition and subtraction sums. Students of Class 4 make storyboards and comic strips on their iPads. What’s more, the use of gadgets is not simply restricted to education.

Games are played using iPads it’s even used to play the piano.

Cynics will frown at such overt use of technology. However, the fact that our lives run at the behest of electronic devices today is hardly debatable. It was with this in mind that Jesus Lall, chairman of the Universal group of schools, piloted the idea for the school in 2009. “The development of cognitive skills, reading and writing only improves with the use of technology,” he says. According to him, only good will come from getting tech-savvy at an early age.

Many however, would disagree.

A few miles away, another class is in progress in a Mulund-based school. The teacher is in the middle of teaching pre-primary kids the alphabet. The letter of the day is ‘T’. Students learn through an activity which involves squeezing the juice out of a tomato. “The experience of such interesting exercises ensures that the kids use their five senses to learn,” says Sailee Mantri, head of the pre-primary section at Nalanda Public School. A subscriber of old-school concepts of education, Mantri believes that electronics have no role in early education. Here, all teaching aids are made by the teachers themselves and news topics are introduced through an activity. The barakhadi (Hindi alphabet), for instance, is taught with the help of hopscotch where the Hindi alphabets replace the numbers.     

“We believe in ‘learning by doing’. Children recognise everything, but they won’t actually know things until they experience it,” says Mantri. Other activities at the school involve mind-mapping sessions, horticultural visits and creation of real-life scenarios, like a vegetable market, in the classroom.   

Parenting decisions
Over the years, schools like Universal, that use technical aids in learning, have mushroomed in metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. For parents searching for an ideal school to educate their children, the decision must also keep in mind the ongoing debate between e-learning and learning the traditional way.

Arushi Shah, whose daughter Shanaya studies in Class 1 at Universal School, believes in the former and says that in today’s age, technology helps make kids well-rounded.

“Shanaya has recently been introduced to Hindi in school and the method used to teach the language is unique. The teachers record pronunciations of words on iPods and the kids listen to it,” says Shah. The biggest advantage, according to her, is that the teacher can instantly know which child is making a mistake as the iPads are connected to the teacher’s monitor.

Shah, however, clarifies that the children aren’t hooked to their gadgets. There’s also reading time, regular worksheets and books apart from the 20-minutes of controlled usage on tablets every day. “I would say that technology is an additional component.”  

Shantanu Prakash, CMD of Educomp, the biggest education solutions provider in India believes in modern methods. “If you put an iPad in front of a baby, the first thing he/she will do is try and touch it. The human brain is designed to experience touch which is a powerful learning tool.”

Prakash believes that gadgets can ensure that teaching styles are customised to each child’s capabilities. “There is exposure to more varied and in-depth content and knowledge is not limited to that of your teacher’s.”   

On the other side of the spectrum are parents like Geraldine Debrass, a Mumbai-based public relations consultant. Debrass always knew that exposure to technology was inescapable, but decided to enroll her six-year-old son, Christian, in a school where traditional learning is 
the motto.

Her reasoning was simple: kids were dabbling with devices outside of school, why add to that.

“While they have computer labs, everything else is done in the conventional manner. There’s show-and-tell, charts, reading, writing, worksheets and practise boards. I wouldn’t call it old-fashioned, though, because the foundation is still sound,” she asserts.

Debrass believes that too much exposure to technology can get children addicted. “At social outings, you often see kids fiddling with their mother’s touchscreen phones instead of running around and playing.” 

Weighing the options
Psychologist Sadia Raval says choosing between conventional and modern tech-learning is a tough decision. “The future is technology and children become aware of gadgets early on. Social interactions are shrinking, though this is where the school plays an important role.”

Without dismissing its importance, Raval cautions parents to ease kids into usage to avoid overwhelming them. “I get nine to 10 cases a month where children experience frequent burnouts,” she says. 

With the Indian government’s enthusiastic plan to introduce millions of students, both rural and urban, to Aakash the cheapest tablet in the world there’s no denying that the tablet revolution has already begun. However, with no concrete evidence to suggest that the introduction of technology improves learning, the decision for parents choosing a school for their toddler remains a largely subjective one.

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