Manfred Spitzer, perhaps Germany’s pre-eminent (and most hated) neuro-cognitive researcher, has repeatedly argued, based on sound, verifiable, empirical research, that sustained interaction with computers will dumb down anyone and is physically and developmentally harmful to children before they reach puberty. (You can imagine how well-liked he is.)
One of his most poignant reports is about the Chinese who also went down that path. To get competitive they digitalized a lot of their early education. Every couple of years they do a massive study to assess reading levels in the 4th grade. Traditionally about 25% were found to be reading below grade level (i.e., having reading difficulties). Since the introduction of computers, this has increased to over 45%. In traditional instruction, students had to practice calligraphy in order to get the ideograms right. With computers, they enter the “root”, say “li” and are shown the up to dozen ideograms that might reflect that pronunciation; they pick the “correct” one from the options presented. It appears an increasing number of students are not learning ideograms at all.
Things, of course, are not all that different in America. Last I heard, 23 states have already eliminated cursive writing from the grade-school curricula. Students are expected to learn to type by the end of the 3rd or 4th grade instead, for this is the input-method of choice for using computers. Literacy rates are dropping drastically. All those loop-the-loops and circles and fine spirals we were required to practice actually serve an important physiological, brain-based purpose. We’ve got science on that, but who cares?
In both cases the long-known, and well-documented link between the language and haptic centers of the brain are not only underutilized, from what we know about brain plasticity and its ability to rewire itself, it is often found that this traditional connection is actually broken down, which results, of course, in many cases in a reduced ability to process speech and text.
Even when we have the science, we very often opt to ignore it because it doesn’t fit well with the official lobbyists’ positions (large corporations like Google, Apple, and Microsoft smell a lot of profit in education), and the unofficial lobbyists, the AI and digitalization cheerleaders are hyping the public into believing that computers are actual learning devices. They aren’t.
Reading (and since it’s unavoidable when dealing with topic, learning to read) played no small role in the work I was doing at the university in Giessen. Granted, that was 35 years ago, but at that time, for example, the hot-topic debate was using phonics or word-recognition methods to teach it. All the research that I found on the subject pointed to only one significant factor in a child’s learning to read. The only variable with any statistically sound correlation was not method, it was the personal relationship between teacher and learner. (Yes, John, a parent’s knee or the next best thing, a teacher you like, is not only key, it’s crucial.) We had the science then, and we ignored it. We’ve had more science in the meantime, and it would seem we’re ignoring that too.
And some people are amazed that I’m curmudgeony. Go figure.