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Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Learning and Growing by Giving: Children as Agents of ICT
By nsbyrer @ 4:36 PM :: 5495 Views :: Article Rating :: Technology
This is an article written and submitted to the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) by Professor Edna Aphek, Jerusalem, Israel. The T/MC believes that every tutor/mentor program has the potential to be a technology center with programs similar to what are described in this article. It just takes a vision from volunteers, leaders, donors and youth to make this possible

Children and the New Technologies

"The kids really do know how to use the Internet and they want it to be exploited in the ways they know it can be exploited. Outside the classroom and outside of any formal instruction, the Internet is a key part of their educational instruction." Pew Internet and American Life Project August 2002

It?s a well-known fact that Children nowadays master computer skills at a very early age and often better than adults. Our youngsters also master many qualities usually attributed to grown-ups.

In a book called Growing Up Digital, Don Tapscott describes the youngsters, whom he calls the N-Generation (net generation), as: Tolerant, Curious, Assertive and more Self assured Emotionally and intellectually open. "The Net Generation", summarizes Tapscott, "is a generation that combines the values of humanism with social and technical aspects".

Educational systems have been investing much time, money and energy in teaching teachers computer and internet skills, often without spectacular results.

This process of teaching grown-ups a skill in order that later on they would teach it to youngsters, coincides with traditional and old assumptions ? that the older teacher is the Ultimate Source of knowledge.

There has been a Shift in the Role and Status of Children caused by children's mastery of computers. Children speak the language of High-Tech as their mother tongue whereas older people are "immigrants" in the land of technology, not familiar with its language.

In a world where many children speak the language of computer and the internet as their "mother tongue", where many of them possess the qualities that make good teachers, it would be most appropriate and only logical to put children?s mastery of computer and internet skills to use for the benefit of society at large in various ways and by means of different projects. The digital divide has been looked upon in many countries and rightly so as a major problem. We, in Israel, try to look upon it as a "probotunity". I learnt of this term from the Brainstorming site

This term probotunity means looking at a problem as an opportunity.

The opportunity is there, in combining the deep thorough knowledge of computer and internet skills, at the hand of our youth with the giving of this vast knowledge to others.

The following is a number of on- going projects in Israel .In all of them, young children, computer and Internet savvy, give of their knowledge to others, be it their peers, other children, their teachers or senior citizens. By so doing, they themselves are empowered: they take upon themselves new responsibilities and acquire new meaning in their lives, by extending themselves beyond themselves.(1)

[The description of some of the projects listed in this paper (tutoring teachers, expert groups, help desk, working with children in special education and the computer youth movement) is based on a powerpoint presentation made by Dorit Bachar, The Ministry of Education.]

These "computer kids" serve as "computer Trustees" in their schools and in the community. By Computer Trustees we are referring to a multi-age group of volunteering students, computer oriented, with high EQ ( Emotional Intelligence), responsible and willing to give others of their time and knowledge. These students aren?t necessarily the traditionally "good" students. Supporting teachers and students

In this project initiated by Dorit Bachar, students tutor and coach their teachers in computer and internet skills on one to one basis. They serve as their teacher?s private tutor and help the teacher and work with him/her according to the teacher?s pace and needs.

These youngsters also serve as trouble shooters in school, at the computer lab and during class as they solve computer problems encountered in the classroom. A survey conducted in 2002, by NSBF in 90 schools in the US reports that , "Fifty-four percent of the schools surveyed said that students provide technical support and 43 percent said students troubleshoot hardware and software problems."

Computer Trustees serving as telephone helpdesk for the community

The youngsters? knowledge and mastery of the ICT is very impressive. They also seem to enjoy immensely their new role as tutors, teachers and coaches. They do it at home with their family and they help their friends over the phone. Now they are also serving as a helpdesk for the community: giving telephone support in the afternoons, providing the public with hardware, software and web support.

Constructing School Web Sites
In many schools, world ?wide, students build their school?s web site and often maintain it. They help in creating databases and assist teachers in uploading educational materials to Internet sites

Tutoring Special Education Children
The computer in addition to being the playground of the children of the Information Age also serves as a meeting ground for children coming from different backgrounds and educational frameworks, who might not have met but for the new meeting place, the computer. In this project Computer trustees tutor other computer trustees, who have learning disabilities or study in special education classes: Together they clean computers, install software, create work sheets, surf the web, etc.

Forming Expert Groups
This program is geared to connecting industry and business with the school. In this project a few students from each school and a teacher are trained by computer experts in the industry. They learn how to program and develop new software. The trainees, in turn, teach what they have learnt to all other computer trustees in their school.

The Intergeneration Connection Program
This program , initiated by Prof. Edna Aphek, aims at minimizing the intergeneration gap and the digital divide by having school children tutor seniors at computer and internet skills and at the same time write together with the seniors a digital "mini e-book" based on a chapter from the senior?s personal history.

The cooperative work of children and seniors enables youngsters to enhance their inter-personal intelligence through a process of teaching-learning and at the same time enables seniors to overcome the digital gap and become connected, involved and active. The program also helps in debunking unfounded myth and prejudice, and creates heart-warning intergenerational connections.

And last but not least this program which combines the old and the new helps us in preserving knowledge at risk of disappearance

Children Tutor Other Children
In many schools computer literate children tutor other children, less knowledgeable at computer and internet skills, in these skills and in other skills, such as reading, as well.

In one school (the Alon school in Mate Yehuda ) a group of fourth graders tutored , this year, the first graders in reading, while using the computer, in the following specific areas:

letter recognition
Discerning final letters from letters in the beginning and the middle of the word.
(In Hebrew there are two sets of letters, according to the place of the letter in the word. If the letter is in the beginning or the middle of the word its shape differs from when it appears at the end of the word. This is true of the following letters: KAF, MEM, NUN, PEH, and TZADI) Understanding the role of punctuation: the function of the period and the spaces

Children tutor children in other schools.
In 2000 I initiated a project in the Alon School in Mate Yehuda where I served as an academic adviser. In this project pupils from Alon School educated in the use of the computer and the internet teach pupils from other schools, in the Mate Yehuda region, who have not yet learned these skills. The pupils are taught the basic skills needed for the preparation of a digital text, power point presentations, and the use of the internet. These skills include: Introduction to the computer and its workings, how to manage files and folders, how to use hyper- links between different information sources, the use of various graphic elements, use of the internet and information retrieval and its use as a means toward a goal; Basic knowledge of the three programs of Office: word, power point and excel and Introduction to the Internet as a means for gathering information to be used in conjunction with other information sources.

Reviving the Youth Movement :Computer Youth Movement
In Israel, many of the youth movements, with the exception maybe of Bnei Akiva, a religious youth movement, have lost much of their appeal for the youngsters. Combining the ideas of the youth movements with the ICT might prove very beneficial. In light of the aforementioned projects, the Israeli Ministry of Education is building a Computer Youth Movement. The goals of the movement are to involve as many youngsters as possible in the information revolution and the meaningful use of the ICT by contributing to others in their community .In addition, the movement aims at training the youngsters as leaders in the ethical, social and legal problems of the IT world and initiating innovative programs in the various fields of the ICT and implementing them in the community.

What these programs have in common
All these programs in which children impart of their knowledge of the ICT also teach the values of caring, sharing, cooperation and volunteering. These programs improve school?s social climate and open up new avenues of expression and excellence for young computer savvies .The programs help create a cadre of young ITC professionals and assist in minimizing the digital divide, caused by the introduction of the ICT into our lives. The idea of sharing knowledge is an integral part of my philosophy. I strongly believe that pupils who are skilled in the use of the computer should be sharing their skills with others who are at the beginning stages or who haven?t been introduced at all to these technological skills.

What these projects also share is the principle of connecting between seemingly "foreign" elements. A close look at the projects listed in this paper will reveal that almost all of them are based on the creative idea of combining populations that usually don?t "go together". The Israeli society is a torn society. Each group, secular, religious, Arab, Druze, in enclosed within itself. Projects of this kind foster meetings from a very young age of groups that otherwise would not meet. The goals of these programs lie beyond the teaching of the ICT, they include the development of the values of responsibility and giving of oneself, the development of the values of patience and tolerance and teaching others in a technological environment and overcoming the differences of culture.

An end note
There is no doubt in my mind that the new technologies are offering us new ways for learning and bridging gaps in society. I strongly believe that our children could and should share the knowledge they have acquired, whether through us, or through others, with other children (and adults) less knowledgeable. The new technologies prompt us to redefine many aspects in our life in general and in school life, in particular. There is a shift in the role and place of children: Children mastery of the computer and the language of high- tech put them in a new status, unknown in the past. In many schools children become "young computer technicians", as they maintain school computers and in many others they serve as "young computer teachers" and tutor other children in various subjects. These" Computer Children" who tutor other children , adults and seniors, who build amazing Internet sites do what they are doing not because they are looking for a reward or for monetary compensation. Their compensation lies in the experience of giving to others.

Not only do the new technologies redefine the role of students but they also usher what might be a new pedagogy which places much emphasis on the inter- personal element ,and on human values :children who tutor others, be it children or adults, learn the values of tolerance, patience, giving and understanding the other.

Impact on Society
The Postmdern era is often characterized by individualism and alienation. In a world where each is to his/her own , and people are takers , there is fear of the other and much loneliness. In one of his stories, the late Leo Buscaglia ( tells about a person he gave some money to so that the latter could complete his studies. In a few years that person came and wanted to repay his debt.Buscaglia told him to give the money to someone else who needed it and thus to start an ever-widening chain of giving.I believe that our youngsters have started such a chain, it?s now our turn as adults to join this chain of giving.

__________________________________________________ _____________________ (1) The description of some of the projects listed in this paper ( tutoring teachers, expert groups, help desk, working with children in special education and the computer youth movement) is based on information supplied by Dorit Bachar, The Ministry of Education.

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