Are computers bad for learning?

The Christian Science Monitor has an article (via slashdot) about a recent cross-cultural German study indicating that students with more than one computer in the home tend to do worse in schools than students with one or less.

A quick survey of my home reveals — gasp — five computers! And that’s not counting the two that have been temporarily decommissioned. Is all this technology numbing my kids’ brains? From the article:

When [parents’ income and education] were removed from the equation, having more than one computer at home was no longer associated with top academic performance. In fact, the study says, “The mere availability of computers at home seems to distract students from learning.” Computers seem to serve mainly as devices for playing games.

What?!? Perhaps I should go upstairs and see what my kids are doing on their computer! I thought they were constantly engaged in wholesome educational activities(r). I thought the InterWeb could only be used for good! Who knew that computers could be used for playing games? But the article goes on:

Still, there were a few exceptions: Academic performance rose among those who routinely engaged in writing e-mail or running educational software.

Oh, so computers can be used for good things. Whew! I guess I won’t bother to check on what the kids are doing with them, then.

Seriously, though — did anyone think the results would be any different? Of course kids are going to use computers to play games. Of course they’ll prefer that to “educational” use. Of course computers do have educational value — if they’re actually being used to educate. I’d have been more surprised if the results had been the opposite: after all, most of the kids I know who have computers tend to use them exclusively as gaming/instant messaging machines.

I suspect a similar survey that controlled for parental education and income would find that the number of cars in a home also correlates to poor academic performance. If you value material things over real interaction with your kids, then your kids will probably value material things over knowledge. If, on the other hand, you view computers — as well as books, musical instruments, and other things — as tools to help your kids develop a better understanding of the world, then they will probably thrive in school.

That’s the philosophy by which my wife and I raising our kids. Yes, we have a lot of things. But it’s the way we use those things, and the way we show our kids how to use them, that makes all the difference.

We hope.

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2 Responses to Are computers bad for learning?

  1. Lyle says:

    I read that article just a couple of hours ago and felt the same way. I’ve stopped reading the CSM on a regular basis for their anti-technology bias. It would be interesting to read the entire study because it is wide-ranging and rather large. I agree that it’s probably a matter of parental interaction that is the key here, not wealth or social status. The statement at the end of the article was quite telling in that such a study in the business world would be pointless. Technology is here and here to stay, such studies should focus on how to most effectively utilize technology rather than whether it is good or bad.

  2. Arethusa says:

    I suspect that computers our luring our young into unhealthy, anti-educational activities thus leaving parents helpless to curb this disturbing trend. I say we give them all to people who know what to do with them. Like me.

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