English for Wizards
At school with Bill Gates
Anyway, today it's time to talk about computers in schools. Back in February, I had a chance to see the grandest computer wizard of them all, the dark lord of the desktop and world's richest person - Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. He was in Tokyo visiting Shohei Elementary School (www.shohei-e.ed.jp) to promote his "Broadband School Consortium" (broadbandschool.jp).
Naturally, a computer company wants many computers in schools. And it's easy to see how computers can be more fun and lively than "real" schoolwork, but some professional educators are now questioning whether computers in schools are really so useful (see news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/2368013.stm for example).
When I told my wife about Bill Gates' visit, she said, "Oh, let's put Peter in that school!" Shohei Elementary is a public school, and it's in Akihabara, one of my favorite places. So we can just move to that neighborhood, and Peter can go to that school. But Peter said he'd rather stay at his own computer-less school where all his friends are. "We have computers at home, so we don't need them in school," he argued.
That's actually what many teachers are saying, too. Computers can be great learning tools, but not in the classroom. Kids don't need teachers telling them what to do on the computer. Instead, they need lots of free time to work on computers by themselves - with parents available for occasional guidance. The real magic of computers is what you discover by yourself, uninterrupted and often way past your bedtime.
Have you ever seen a 3-year-old using a mouse for the first time? Small children have few chances to feel so powerful.
At school, the computers are usually kept locked up, so no one can steal them, break them or even use them. Computer classes mean following a teacher's strict instructions. And what if the computers don't work? Few teachers can double as computer technicians.
Bill Gates himself told the Shohei students that the key goal is "letting you pursue your dreams and the things you are interested in." He added, "I know that in the years ahead, young people like yourselves will do many things that will amaze me and go way beyond the dreams that I had."
Shukan ST: April 25, 2003
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