October 2007

Bookshelf

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Sceptical Essays on Children, Computers and the Future of Learning

Author : Utpal Mallik
Publisher :  Frank Bros. & Co. (Publishers) Ltd.
Price :  Rs. 190.00/-

Sceptical Essays on Children, Computers and the Future of Learning focuses on the vital issues pertaining to ICT in education. This small book is an indispensable piece of reading material in the domain of ICT in education for policymakers, teachers, students and the general public and would help decision makers to make better investment and take innovative decisions on ICT in education. The book traces the genesis of educational computing, highlights critical educational issues associated with ICT use and takes a futuristic stance. The author's understanding of the subject, style of narration and wry humour makes the collection an enjoyable reading and a valuable source book for the non-expert.


Sceptical Essays on Children, Computers and the Future of Learning is perhaps the first attempt to put an earnest issue as that of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in education in the genre of essay. Laced with a tinge of wit, the author never seems to read unpleasant, yet he is convincing and forceful in his assertions.

The book is divided into four sections. The first section is about the relationship between computers and school education in India over the past quarter of a century or thereabout. The author emphasises on the vagueness of assumptions by educators and experts upon which ICT in education programmes have been based and ambiguous policies adapted and projects implemented in synergising computer and school education. The author claims that efforts to make all school computing programmes necessarily literacy programmes has not been a wise one. He further makes the point that changing tools and technology would not solve problems in the educational system; a change in attitude of educators is indispensable in bringing about efficient and practical teaching-learning processes and highlights the need to shift the focus from “teaching the tools” to “tools to teach”.

 “Literacy,” says the author, “is a strong metaphor and one that in the context of computer education is totally confusing. … There is no consensus on what everyone needs to know. Universally required IT skills must change with the fast changing technology.”

The second section of the book puts stress on ICT tools and their relevance in education system. The author encourages innovative uses of ICT tools to promote individual learning styles and makes a strong case for spontaneous and diverse uses of the tools to encourage learning processes that an individual adopts.  The author expresses his disagreement with the idea that educational games are a threat to education. On the contrary, he argues, the educational games provide an important package of cognitive skills, containing  hypothesis-creation, data gathering, hypothesis testing, evaluation of alternative strategies and tactics, classificaion of novel situations and objects, development of new concepts and generalisations and development of vocabulary. 

Various courseware issues, including trends in courseware development, evaluation of courseware and teachers' readiness to use learning resources, and other similar themes are addressed in Section three. The author speaks of teachers', students' and educators'  lack of  preparedness to use computer courseware, many of whom are under the impression that courseware is simply a part of the computing programme that has nothing to do with teaching a school subject. This poor understanding, together with unwillingness among teachers to use these programs, unreal expectations from them, and, above all traditional  teaching practices stand in the way of children reaping any benefit out of such programs.

Section four of the book throws light on the basic educational use of the Internet and emphasises the imminent need for teaching-learning community to organise itself into online community. The author highlights the significance of active online collaborations between students and between students and teachers or experts. The author also comments on the emerging vocabulary and syntax in our online communications, as we socialise on the Internet. Finally, the author cautions on the question of intellectual property rights (or their rampant violation) and ethical issues associated with the question as we prepare for the distance learning mode that the global network so eminently supports.

Sceptical Essays on Children, Computers and the Future of Learning is a  must read  for both the toughest sceptic and the most enthusiastic proponent of  ICT for education.   

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