A no-gadget school in the world’s tech center | Inquirer News

A no-gadget school in the world’s tech center

(First of two parts)

Since Silicon Valley is the global technology hub, people there must send their kids to the most high-tech schools.  Not so.

In Waldorf School of the Peninsula in Los Altos, California, 75 percent of the children have parents who work in tech companies such as eBay, Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard.


But there are no computers in class and the school does not even want kids to use computers at home.


Low tech

Kids learn the old-fashioned way, with pencils, pens, paper, blackboard, books, paints, even knitting needles.

Waldorf schools run on the philosophy that digital technologies may have ill effects on creativity, attention, motor and social skills.  These schools stress the importance of physical exercise and real-world interactions rather than virtual learning.

“Fifth-grade pupils practice knitting socks to help their math and problem-solving skills, second graders play catch with bean bags while repeating verses after their teacher,” reports the United Kingdom’s Mail Online. “They’re not synchronizing their mailboxes and Facebooks—they are synching their brains with their bodies.”

Cathy Waheed, a mathematics teacher who used to be a software engineer, teaches fractions by asking kids to cut up apples or cakes into quarters or even sixteenths.

“For three weeks, we ate our way through fractions,” she tells the New York Times. “When I made enough fractional pieces of cake to feed everyone, do you think I had their attention?”


Alan Eagle, who has a computer science degree from Dartmouth, tells the Times, “I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school … The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic … [is] ridiculous.”

Eagle has an iPad and a smartphone and he works at Google.

Ironically, his daughter in fifth grade did not use Google, while his son three grade levels higher was just learning its use.

Pierre Laurent, who used to work for Intel and Microsoft, agrees with the Waldorf philosophy.  His three children are all in Waldorf schools and his wife Monica was “so impressed” that she became a teacher in one of them a few years ago.

Both of them believe that, in the real world, great teachers make a difference in learning.

Laurent, who now works in a technology start-up, tells the Times, “Engagement is about human contact, the contact with the teacher, the contact with … peers.”

Super easy

Contrary to what many parents think, there is no need to start kids on technology early.  Why?  Digital technologies are very easy to use.

“It’s super easy,” says Eagle.  “It’s like learning to use toothpaste … [It’s] brain-dead easy.”

Without computers, the children in Waldorf do not feel deprived at all.  In fact, they get frustrated when people around them use gadgets all the time.

One kid complained that on a visit to his cousins, he saw them playing with their gadgets and not with each other.  He had to wave his arms and say, “Hello guys, I’m here.”

Bottom line

The bottom line in the use of technology in education is:  Does technology make us smarter?

When used properly, technology does help, as seen in the ways Xavier School, for example, has experimented with ways to make such use meaningful in class (See Eureka! on Aug. 5 and 12).

Ateneo and Miriam College High Schools are also thoughtful users.  They have integrated technology in learning, but they prefer to proceed with caution and study the ramifications of digital learning before haphazardly requiring everyone to buy tablets, laptops or e-books.

Of course, most students prefer to learn with tech, for readily apparent reasons.

“Digital technology might brighten the students’ outlook not only for the obvious reason that it gives them mouses and keyboards to wield, but also because it saves them the effort of acquiring knowledge and developing skills,” says Emory University English professor Mark  Bauerlein in his book “The Dumbest Generation:  How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.”

There is a price to pay.

“When screens deliver works and numbers and images in fun sequence, digital fans assert, the students imbibe the embedded lessons with glee, but in fact, while the medium may raise the glee of the students, we have little evidence that the embedded lessons take hold as sustained learning in students’ minds,” Bauerlein says.

Do students really use the Net mainly for study?  When our research team surveyed high school students, 90 percent of them said they surfed the Net for homework and school projects.  Fair enough.  But less than 10 percent spent more than four hours a day doing so.

Some 85 percent of respondents said they surfed the Web for personal interests while

25 percent spent more than four hours a day doing so.

So studying is most likely NOT the main reason why students stay long online.

(To be continued)

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TAGS: column, Computers, Learning, technology

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