WASHINGTON – A College Park-based child advocacy group Tuesday called for a break from programs like “Maryland Connected for Learning,” which aims to wire all schools in the state for the Internet by 2002/2003.
The Alliance for Childhood said the emphasis on computers may keep children from what they really need — “strong bonds with caring adults, creative play, outdoor experiences of nature, the arts, and hands-on lessons of all kinds.”
The alliance, which includes educators, technology experts, child development and health officials, said the money would be better spent on hiring teachers and reducing classroom size.
But a spokesman for the state Department of Education said Maryland is focusing on all of those areas, not just computers.
“Everyone has an opinion on how every dollar should be spent,” said Neil Greenberger, the department spokesman. “Technology is not our only priority. It will be clearly evident within the next year that there have been great efforts to reduce classroom size.
Greenberger said that Maryland Connected for Learning has a $62.5 million budget next year: $44.5 million to wire schools, $13.9 million to buy equipment and $4.2 million to train teachers. He said the state hopes to have one “mid- to high-capacity” computer for every five students by 2002.
But the alliance said it is more important for elementary school students to create bonds with teachers, play with other students and have face-to-face conversation with adults. It said research has indicated that children, especially in low-income schools, benefit more from strong relationships with teachers.
“The impact on relationships really changes when you work directly with children rather than when education is coming from a machine,” said Joan Almon, U.S. coordinator for the alliance.
Almon said she noticed the same kind of negative pressure on young children for early academics in the 1970s, when she taught kindergarten in Baltimore.
“It was an unsound direction to go in for young children. And, none of it was helpful for children. They need a strong basis in socialization,” she said.
She said sitting in front of a computer could also lead to health hazards, such as repetitive stress injuries and the problems that more computer use present to an already-sedentary generation of kids.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Parris Glendening said that socialization has not been forgotten in the push to introduce technology to students.
“There is a need for young people to understand computers because those are the jobs of today and tomorrow, but it still needs to be balanced,” said Michelle Byrnie, the spokeswoman.
The executive director of the Maryland Association of Elementary School Principals said he does not think personal interaction will diminish with computers. Jim Dryden said computers are just classroom tools that still leave time for “collaborative work.”
“There’s the lunchroom, playground and school bus. There’s a variety of times for students to interact,” Dryden said. “It has not been my experience that time spent with the computer has minimized those actions.”
“Nobody should be deceived in thinking students of any age will be in front of a computer all day much like nobody will be in front of a book or blackboard for seven hours,” Greenberger said.