[TheGuide Logo]

Search

Forum

Home

Feedback

Credits

About Raj

Concerns And Challenges Of Internet For Children
by Minal Morarji

Today, thanks to the growing importance of the Internet, the children have a wealth of new resources at their fingertips, but along with that comes a host of new concerns and challenges too which need to be dealt with. The following article deals with how parents and teachers can tap the Net to educate kids, and guidance on how to can keep kids safe when using the Web. It also points out the limitations as well as strengths of computers in the educational process.

Computers and the Internet are here to stay in our schools and homes. But you don't necessarily have to get totally wired to do right by your children.We don't want a river of high tech in our lives. We don't want things that go beep in our kid's bedroom. Technology is simply a tool to enhance leaning. Some people out there are saying it's the be-all and end-all, which is not at all true, Here are some of the comments from Web Boosters and Net Skeptics.

Clifford Stoll, a well known computer-savy astrophysicist who once earned a measure of fame for tracking a wily hacker across the global Internet, has become one of the best known technology skeptics,laying out a diatribe against the rush to wire our homes and schools in a recent book, "High Tech Heretic". "If we want to encourage people to read books, why do we give them a cousin of television and a brother of the video game to learn from ?" "If we want to teach them to write, why do we give them machines that encourage copy and paste?" Worse, the computers are crowding out genuinely valuable parts of the curriculum at some schools. The space often is carved out of the music room, the library or the arts studio.

But arguably the best way to deal with the Internet is for parents to learn about it and not to be intimidated if their kids are more sophisticated than they are. The biggest issue for parents has been their ability to understand Internet. All of a sudden, we have this tool that our children spend a great deal of time on, both at school and in the library, and many parents are not spending as much time as their children. That becomes a very huge learning curve for the parents.

Yet for all the dangers that lurk in cyberspace, keeping kids away from it can do more harm than good. The greatest risk is being denied access to the Internet, as in present day, children need it for school, careers - they need it for life. If parents and teachers recognize that the computers are not going to teach by themselves then such programs can really work wonders, as implemented by a school in Virginia, USA. They use many types of technology in addition to eMates (kids laptop), including widespread Internet access and videoconferencing system that allows collaboration with far flung students.

In this school, sharing information in the classroom is a breeze, thanks to infrared communication device on each computer. It is amazing to see children taking little eMates to bigger Internet connected machines to take notes on research. Instead of simply printing out Web pages for later study, kids summarize on the fly.

Many other schools are nearly ready for similar breakthroughs. They are building an Internet-based library for dependable useful information on science and mathematics. Current state of computing in classroom is comparable where business was several years ago. In the business world, wild spending on early computerization often ended with systems that cost too much and did little. Only when computers became better suited to the tastes of business, did business productivity take off. Same way in education we are probably right at the cusp of where business was five to eight years ago. We are about to see the real increase in learning productivity.

Some experts are now looking for a middle path between the boosters and the skeptics. It can only be successful if one remembers that it is the Instructional program that is the key in learning and we are simply using the technology to enhance this program. Technology is important only if it's the best way to reach educational goals. Information technology should be in the background, not the foreground.

Amid the chaos, educators, researchers and politicians are beginning to focus attention on what they say are solutions to a core group of education issues they believe will yield the greatest results.

One is early education. Brain research shows that the first three years of a child's life are critical. That's when brains grow more than at any other time. Done right, researchers say, early education in the years before kindergarten prepares children for a lifetime of learning. All programs should be designed to give students the mental stimulation and social interaction that is so important in the early years. Child-rearing is not about cutting edge-technology, it's about communication.

The computer revolution is not simply another chapter of change to which we must all adjust. It's move away from proven traditions - ones that encourage students to develop their imaginations, their full battery of senses and their abilities to communicate insightfully with people. If there's going to be any balance in our high-tech future, the emphasis at home will have to be on the nontechnical. After all, when we turn out the lights each night, do we bemoan the fact that our children didn't get enough time at the keyboard-or that they didn't spend enough time with us?

The web is still an information wilderness, untamed by the kind of fact-checking books undergo before they're deemed suitable. But then there are web sites like Britannica.com, which prove otherwise.

Last year in October Britannica decided to launch a free web site called Britannica.com. It is the easy-to-navigate Web site which encompasses the entire print encyclopedia, plus links to 125,000 other "best sites" and about 90 magazines and books. It also offers news, weather and sports. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary is another useful component of the package. The availability of so much information may persuade even the most technophobic parent to pause before buying a new set of reference books.

The computer is an asocial machine. To develop their minds properly, children need to get away from the keyboard for exercise and chitchat. Computers are incredible research tools. But in every way, they are completely asocial. They are the exact opposite of what science tells us kids need most to develop their neural brain synapses: social and physical interaction and collaborative, problem-solving, three dimensional activities. Don't think that giving children computer access will put them ahead of anyone else in their class. It won't. Playing in the real world will.

The most important thing you can do for your kids isn't to boot them up on the newest PC, the fastest modem or the hottest software; it's to spend time engaged in activities that bring them face to face with their peers and with you. Kids, like adults, have to learn to negotiate the real world before they can be expected to navigate effectively in a virtual one.

Parents need to impose some rules of the road. The web has its dark side, where pornographers and profiteers lurk to catch the unwary. If left to surf by themselves, children can be easy prey for sexual predators, for whom the Net, with its chat rooms and instant messaging, has become a virtual playground overflowing with naive young children. Kids are also vulnerable to shopping binges and credit-card fraud. They can unwittingly give away personal information that puts their whole family at risk. They can be exposed to pornography or to hate messages that incite violence.

There is no secret formula for building successful learners. Children need clearly defined parameters, guidelines to assure them that they are making wise choices. They need precise expectations, attainable goals and the linguistic ability to express themselves. Technology can enhance a child's learning, but not when we rely on it as a substitute for the personal touch.

DO'S & DON'TS

Kids' Rules For Safe Surfing On The Net :

DO'S:

  • Use an alias, or screen name, whenever you go online. Never tell a stranger your real name especially when chatting in public rooms. Remember, others could be listening in.
  • Tell your parents if you come across questionable Web sites. Keep them informed about all the sites you visit and any friends you make online.
  • Make sure you delete any e-mail messages that look obscene or hostile. Passing them onto others, only as a joke, only makes it worse.
  • Get permission from your parents before accepting anything from strangers you meet online. Also get permission before using a credit card to buy anything.

DON'TS:

  • Download attachments from any unknown source.
  • Give out your full name, address, phone number or school name.
  • Arrange face-to-face meetings with anyone you meet on the Internet, unless your parents approve.
  • Order anything or sign up for mailings without permission.
  • Post photos of yourself or write a personal profile for the Net.

RULES FOR CAREFUL PARENTS:

DO'S:

  • Use parental controls or screening software to limit what your children can do on the Net. The programs are not perfect, but they eliminate many problems.
  • Make sure your child doesn't quit school activities or cut back on physical exercise in order to spend an inordinate amount of time in front of a computer.
  • Surf the web with your children. Help them identify and locate kid-friendly Web sites and search engines. Monitor temporary files to check sites they have visited.
  • Be suspicious if your child suddenly minimizes windows when you approach or tries to keep you from learning where he or she has been on the Internet.

DON'TS :

  • Allow your child to keep a computer in his or her bedroom. Monitoring will be much easier in a high traffic area, like a family room.
  • Post photos or personal details about your children on the Net.
  • Allow your children to exchange instant messages with anyone they don't know.
  • Use the family computer as a babysitter.

Some Tips For Parents :

Computer technology is useful and fun, but there can be too much of a good thing. Teachers and well-wired parents offer some advice on how to keep kids from getting lost in cyberspace.

  • Interactive device are no substitute for human contact. To develop proper language skills, children must talk to real people and listen to them, one-on-one or in group discussions. To keep their children from becoming hooked on communicating with a machine, parents should ration computer time, just as they place limits on television viewing.
  • E-mail and other computerized communications encourage sloppy expression and arcane jargon. Kids need to be exposed to good writing and correct speech. Adults should read to small children and encourage the older kids to read out loud.
  • Children who have grown up with elaborate technology at home may be more advanced in the computer arts than their own teachers. Schoolwork can become boring or frustrating for such children, luring them into dangerous territory on the Internet. Computer-savvy parents could be better equipped than many teachers to challenge their children, and to monitor activity on the Net.
  • The Internet is a rich source of information-and misinformation. It is still an information wilderness, untamed by the kind of fact-checking books undergo before they're deemed suitable. It often contains misinformation and it encourages plagiarism and discourages book research. Children must need help in learning one of life's most difficult lessons: that you can't believe everything you read. The more sophisticated they are in using the Internet, the more credulous they may become. An ability to dicriminate and challenge what is presented to the children has to be fostered.

Internet is a tool which needs to be incorporated in our children's lives with care and insight by both parents and teachers to have beneficial effect. However, the focus must not be the technology but how it can be used effectively for the advancement of knowledge and all round mental growth of our children. The key is seeing Internet/Computers as tools to accomplish other goals, not as an end in themselves.



Copyright 1997-2000 Dr. Raj Mehta. All rights reserved.