Just weeks into a Primary Education degree, I was teaching my first lesson in an Australian Primary school. Cross-legged on the rug, my 21 kindergarten students watched wide-eyed as the interactive whiteboard animation captured images of the bright foliage, soccer tournaments, and pecan harvests—icons of New South Wales Autumn. When the follow-up activity rolled onto the screen, 21 hands burst into the air, eager to click and drag images of autumn to match vocabulary. My students were behaving better than any first-year student teacher could dream of.
A successful lesson? Hardly had I stepped outside the classroom when its irony hit home: Bright leaves floated through a sunny playground—here was autumn in all its glory. Nature, freedom to explore and learn through experience—this is what my students needed. Why, then, had I forfeited the hands-on exposure to real life for a sterile presentation of cyber-nature?
Since the onset of my studies, university coursework has been preparing me, and my colleagues in Primary Education, to teach this way. The so-called ‘paperless classroom’, education’s newest ideal, is increasingly mechanising Primary classrooms through personal computers, interactive whiteboards, and teleconferencing. Technology can replace anything, one professor advised, and showed us software that will enable our students to do everything from dissect frogs to play Lego on computers. Another lecture taught us to incorporate virtual worlds into our classrooms, the lecturer guiding us through their own virtual classroom in Second Life. I am developing an alarming picture of tomorrow’s classrooms: institutions where assignments are distributed, completed, and graded electronically, and social networks, chat rooms, and virtual worlds replace real human interaction.
Technology is universally and disturbingly addictive. On the surface, it is time and resource efficient. Connected classrooms have instant access to their global counterparts. And, as I discovered in my student teaching, students as young as kindergarten are captivated by the glamour and stimulation technology offers. Swept away by the faculty’s enthusiasm for artificial intelligence, my fellow students were shocked when I stated that, to me, an ideal Primary School classroom would have no computers at all. They responded with gasps and icy glares uncharacteristic of our former friendship.
Technology hurts children. It short-circuits the personal, teacher-to-student flow of ideas so central to a primary classroom. The boundless creativity inherent in children and expressed through large-motor play, cannot flourish when their studies and play are limited to pre-set computer programs. Children increasingly exposed to the artificial environments of computers become steadily removed from the reality of human emotions and interaction, not to mention the natural world. Children need teachers for security and as positive role models, and teachers cannot be substituted with computer screens.
Friends of mine, tired of the influence computers exerted on their sons, now home school them. When university work permits, I accompany them to a nearby park, where we play soccer, catch crayfish, or watch birds. Their knowledge of local history, zoology, and ornithology far surpasses mine, but more importantly, they are secure and happy.
I cannot fight technology with words and logical reasoning. It is a question that concerns the souls of children, and a question for the conscience of every educator. During my remaining three years of study, I hope to see the trend towards ‘paperless classrooms’ reverse. Having turned on the Interactive Whiteboard once, I never hope to again.