Starting from 2014 every fifth and sixth grader received a Chromebook. It is part of the 1:1 learning initiative — one kid in front of one computer. In the recent curriculum committee discussion, there is a plan to expand the approach to cover all high school students.
I am deeply concerned about the overuse of technology and the damage to students. As a professor of computer science with over 10 years’ experiences of teaching and doing research in this field, I am a fan of technology. But introducing technology to education should always be taken with great caution.
Education fundamentally is about productive interaction between teachers and students. Such interactions can not be replaced by a computer. The best lectures I give are those that I give on a blackboard. In a lecture whenever I find any student opening a laptop, I know that he/she is lost and is not learning.
It is true that the students in this digital world need to learn how to operate digital devices, how to search for useful information online, and how to do simple programming. A computer/programming class that meets once a week, in a computer lab, for one semester would do it.
Providing a fifth grader, i.e., a 10-year-old kid, with a Chromebook 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with unlimited Internet access is simply irresponsible. Access control on Chromebook is essentially broken. Students know how to get around the barrier and launch video game sites.
I have heard stories of students playing games on Chromebook during recess time, at flex hours, at after school, on school buses, and even during regular classes. I have heard stories of fourth graders purposely sitting next to fifth graders on the school bus so as to watch the older kids playing video games. I have heard stories of fifth graders chatting on Chromebook late in the night for several months before parents find out.
When children carry a mobile device everywhere they go, it is a huge drain and impossible for parents and teachers to constantly monitor the children’s proper use of it. It is hopeless to assume that 10 year olds have the kind of self control not to get addicted. Even adults get addicted to video games.
I am not saying that kids should be totally banned from computers, the Internet, or even video games at home. My kids play some video games, but they have limited screen time every day. They play on a desktop (which cannot be moved to their bedrooms) in an open space. Kids just should not sit in front of a screen all day long. They need to play outside. They need to interact with other kids in a real world setting. They need to learn how to be a responsible citizen.
But at school the kids are provided with Chromebooks with no supervision nor parental control. They are provided with not only a Chromebook whose educational value is uncertain, but also the unnecessary risks and potential danger that come with it. This undermines all the efforts that responsible parents make to provide a healthy environment for their children.
I have learned from a parent a suggestion that I agree with. First of all, the use of Chromebook in a classroom should be minimized. Students do not learn math by playing online math games. They also learn better when they take notes on a piece of paper. For classes and teachers that do need Chromebooks, the devices should be kept on a shelf and used only for the assignment when they are needed. When the assignment is done, the machines are put back on the shelf.
This not only minimizes the damages to the computers which is a huge expense, but also prevents the kids from using them at lunch, on the bus, during recess, when teachers are doing activities that require their full attention, and of course when they are at home.
Before that, I urge all parents — especially parents of young kids — to refuse the Chromebook. Any school work that requires a computer can be done on a desktop, in the living room, with parental supervision and time restrictions. After all, we as taxpayers paid for the Chromebook and we can say no to it.