Education and The Internet

The World Wide Web has opened up information to such an extent that some people are comparing it to some kind of neural network. Wikipedia hopes to one day hold the sum of all human knowledge, and in doing so makes accessing any kind of information as easy as knowing where to look for it. If this is a metaphor for the human mind then it is perhaps missing a little poetry, but the point is made, we know where to look for answers

Having this much knowledge ready to be tapped into surely holds exciting prospects for education, but it would be wise to keep tags on how our children access it, after all we would be making a mistake to let go of old models for the education when we have yet to understand how the new models actually impact them.

Academic learning used to be a thing that held a certain gravitas, after all learning for learning’s sake is a relatively new thing picked up when we left the bows and arrows of our hunter gatherer existence behind. I once stayed in a village in the Amazon where the children did not concern themselves with higher purpose, but played with the things they would be using for survival a mere few years after; Pots and pans for the girls, bows and arrows for the boys. Somehow we moved our children from the dust and dirt into the playground, set the controls for the moon and here we are.

In this ascent we left a few things behind. Learning became a serious issue that separated us from destitution, both financially and morally, and any kind of fun was separated by the clang of the bell that signalled the start of lessons. The writings of Charles Dickens characterise this, and to be honest we have not really come a long way since then. We have an agenda and children are expected to fulfil it by wrote.

Children learn quite naturally. It sounds silly to say but it is true. Given the right environment and tools children will absorb knowledge. A rather perverse example is that children in our destitute inner cities are doing a great job of learning given the environment they are being presented with. They are learning to dodge the sticks and stones of deprivation to come out fighting, and given the circumstances it is hardly surprising. My point is that learning happens; it just might not be the kind of learning we want.

This is the problem with the internet. Learning is happening, but we do not trust either the medium or our children to navigate through it to get to the point we want them to get to. Our existing model of do as I ask is being supplanted by a medium that enthrals for its share of a Child’s attention.

So are we just are fooling ourselves if we think we can we can shackle either the internet or our children. The internet is an organically growing medium that reflects humanity, and any attempt to divert this flood will surely not end in success. Similarly our children are inquisitive enough to find a way around any restriction to look upon the internet’s grubby face.

So what is the answer?

We must give our children the tools to navigate the internet in safety, and these I am afraid are not kiddie safe filters, but the practical hands on experience in how, why and where to find out information.

Create simple goals and ask our children to fulfill them, finding out nuggets of information from sources we know of. Then make the goals more difficult, with more hurdles to finding it, like some internet treasure hunt.

We must also discuss the philosophies of the Internet, things like open source and shared resources that are not just the mere whimsies of geeks, but attempts by conscientious groups of people to create a true online democracy. Most importantly of all we have to understand these things ourselves, because like many things the internet can be good and bad depending on our perspective, so we had better understand where we stand now before the tide takes us, and our children with it.

Dom Reid runs an on-line resource for free fun games for kids that help you learn

[http://www.u2learn.com] while he is not building oscommerce stores [http://www.easycommercestores.co.uk] or indulging in a bit of ethical seo [http://www.opengseo.com]

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