Children and Computer Technology: Analysis and Recommendations

By Shields, Margie K.; Behrman, Richard E. | The Future of Children, Fall-Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

Children and Computer Technology: Analysis and Recommendations


Shields, Margie K., Behrman, Richard E., The Future of Children


Feeding children's passion for computers, billions of dollars in both public and private funds are being spent to give children access in school, at home, and in the community. Nearly every school is now equipped with computers, [1] and over two-thirds of our nation's children have access at home. [2] But is computer technology improving children's lives? This journal issue examines how children are affected by the emerging world of computers. It explores how computer use is affecting children's development physically, intellectually, socially, and psychologically; whether computers are increasing or decreasing the disparities between rich and poor; and whether computers are being used effectively to enhance classroom instruction.

This article reviews the main themes of the journal issue by summarizing highlights of both the promise as well as concerns surrounding children's use of computers, and by focusing on factors society should consider when making choices about the role of technology in children's lives. Why is access important? Who needs access and for what? How can we assure that access leads to positive learning experiences at school and at home? As computers become ubiquitous in our daily lives, it is important to understand how computer technology can enhance or detract from a child's growth and development. Computers are not an end in themselves, but a means to an end. We must determine what we want our children to experience and learn from their use of computers so that they are empowered to take control of this powerful new tool in their lives.

The Importance of Access

Computer technology has transformed society in profound ways. For better or worse, the increasing pervasiveness of computer technology is a reality no one can ignore. Computers are fast becoming integrated into nearly every aspect of daily living--from school to work, to banking and shopping, to paying taxes and even voting. They provide access to a wide range of information without a trip to the library. They convey personal messages in place of the post office or telephone. And they compete with newspapers, radio, and television in providing entertainment and news of the day.

Computer technology also has a profound effect on our economy. Not only are computers changing the way goods and services are manufactured, distributed, and purchased, but they are also changing the skills workers need to be productive and earn a living. Almost every job today requires at least some knowledge of computers, and for an increasing number of jobs, productivity is directly related to an individual's level of computer expertise. [3] As the economy moves increasingly to computer-based work, the changes are bringing a societal transformation as significant as the Industrial Revolution. Just as society was transformed when families migrated from an agrarian way of life to work in factories 200 years ago, in the "Digital Age," computer technology is transforming society by enabling many people to work anytime, anywhere, freed from a workplace anchored in time and space. [4]

Political participation is also changing because of computer technology. The Internet is increasingly the primary access point for disseminating information about government policies, programs, and services. E-mail lists and chat rooms have become popular vehicles for forming political coalitions at the national, state, and local levels. In 1999, more than 23 million individual taxpayers (about 19%) filed their returns via the Internet, and the number is expected to double by 20O6. [5] And in what many see as the wave of the future, the nation's first legally binding public election using the Internet took place in March 2000, when 42% of those voting in Arizona's Democratic Party presidential primary cast their ballots online. [6]

The public generally agrees that for children to participate socially, economically, and politically in this new and different world, they must acquire a certain level of comfort and competence in using computers. …

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