How do you feel about a computer program for babies? I must admit that when the tape Turntaking arrived on my desk, with its claim to be ‘simple enough for babies’, my initial reaction was one of horror!
The picture came into my mind of helpless babies propped up in front of a TV Screen to amuse themselves with the game while harassed parents got on with the chores, or snatched the opportunity to put their feet up for ten minutes. But this, of course, is not what it’s all about. No matter what sort of educational programs we’re talking about — whether it’s ones like this for the very young child, or an exam revision program for older teenagers — working with the computer should not be seen as a solitary activity.
Yet many people still look at micros as being useful only in a one-child-one computer situation, where the child is assumed to be taught by the computer which is taking the place of an adult instructor. I know there are some educational programs (which have been reviewed in Crash Course), which are marketed on the fact that they can be used by children without any adult supervision whatsoever. No parent, though, who wishes to do the best for his or her child, should be happy to delegate the responsibility for home education to the computer.
When the television became a common piece of furniture in the home, it was criticised for destroying family life. ‘Families don’t talk any more’, became the cry. ‘Everyone just sits impassively in front of the screen. The only discussion that takes place is when there is a disagreement over which programme to watch.’ Now that a vast number of homes possess micros, modern technology has been blamed for being the ultimate destroyer of any interaction between parents and their children.
I believe, however, that used correctly the computer can increase communication between children and adults. The best home computer education programs are those which encourage the parent to work alongside the child, helping and directing progress. This is not to say that the child must never be left alone with the computer: as the notes for the Turntaking program say, ‘If you are busy you will be able to leave children to play with the program themselves and they can tell you about it when you come to see how they are getting on...’
It’s this ‘telling about it’ process which is so important. Let’s start thinking about computers as an aid to communication for a change!