Do We Really Want to Bridge the “Digital Divide”? The FCC E-rate Tax Might Be “E-Wrong?”

by on December 8, 2004

Using a computer makes a kid less able to compute. Or so one study says. An article in The Register reports on a study that finds students who use computers in school do worse than their computer-less peers in math and reading.

From the article: “The researchers suggest two theories to explain their findings. One is ‘ability bias’ – that it might be that teachers do not want lower-ability students to use computers. The other theory proposed is that students who use computers frequently do so at the expense of traditional learning methods.”

This is from the FCC’s page on the E-rate (the Gore tax, the part of the universal service tax for school and library technology funding):

“Welcome to the FCC’s informal education page. Technology has great power to enhance education. The FCC is working to bring every school and library in America into the information age. Join the dialogue to help spread the benefits of technology to schools and libraries nationwide.”

Perhaps the benefits of technology are not as great as people or the FCC think.

Access to technology is important. But technology is not a cure-all for all of society’s problems, nor is it a replacement for traditional forms of learning and communication. Email is great for what it is – a quick and easy way to send typed words along with other data. But it is not a perfect replacement for two-way voice communications, especially when trying to convey a warmer, more personalized message – the kind that only the real-time sound of one’s voice provides. I think we lose something if we pretend that it does.

Similarly, I think kids lose something (more so at their early, formative years) by using calculators and computers. We should be torturing them with long division!

With the push to give laptops to middle and high school students, this study should be given some weight – perhaps money could be better spent elsewhere. Though if a rat brain can fly a plane, who needs to know how to do math?

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