Computers called 'fools gold' for students

A new child advocacy organization is calling for an immediate moratorium on the further introduction of computers in early childhood and elementary education until their effects on young students are better determined.

School districts and legislatures across the nation have become so enamored with computer technology that they have failed to examine whether it is an appropriate tool for toddlers, preschoolers and elementary students, the College Park, Md., group said in its inaugural report, "Fools Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood."

Children should spend more time playing creatively, bonding with caring adults and directly experiencing nature and the arts, said 75 educators, child-development and health authorities, technology experts, researchers, and others, in a joint statement released Tuesday by the Alliance for Childhood.

They urged the U.S. Surgeon General to prepare a comprehensive report on the physical, emotional and other developmental hazards that computers pose to children.

The report contends that the focus on an increasingly wired approach to learning is not validated by research on academic achievement. It notes the risks of social isolation, obesity, eyestrain and repetitive stress injuries.

School districts, especially those serving low-income communities, cheat students of proven benefits — smaller class sizes, better infrastructure, health care and nutrition, and higher salaries to attract and retain quality teachers — by diverting resources to computer technology, the report stated.

It estimates that public elementary schools would have to spend about $8 billion per year ($4 billion in the 1999-2000 school year) to meet the Clinton administration's technology goals: a computer for every five children, Internet access in every classroom from kindergarten on up, and software and training to enable all teachers to use computers to teach.

Petition signer Lowell Monke, an assistant professor of education at Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio, said that public schools with budget deficits often are mandated by state and local governments to spend funds on computers.

The Alliance for Childhood report faults educators and parents for succumbing to the hard sell of hardware and software companies that tout the educational potential of computers.

"There's this sense that Silicon Valley has a message that to not get kids to use these machines will put them at a disadvantage," technology writer David Shenk said at the news conference held for the report's release.

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