Kids aren’t good at technology

In the last two years and change, Rocket Kid did a fair amount of schooling online, including a full quarter in an online self-guided program.

Fortunately, the work was rarely a problem—he typically understood and could complete assignments.

How to navigate on the computer? That’s another matter.

Much like his course work, I could show him a couple of times and he’d usually remember how to do what he needed to do after that.

However, after teaching online for part of 2020 and after seeing how students older than he is couldn’t function technically in the online space, I have to say: kids are not terribly tech-savvy.

This post is a generalization. Of course there are kids who have amazing technical skills when they’re seven or twelve. Exceptions don’t prove the rule.

We give them lots of credit because they’ve grown up surrounded by it, and in some small ways sometimes, they’re more comfortable with it than their elders, but they don’t really know how to do basic stuff.

“My daughter knows more about YouTube than I do!”

They can use gaming systems and basic things on phones and tablets, sure. They know how to stream content and quickly learn the latest social media app. But things that are useful for productivity? Not so much.

We give them assignments on the computer but never teach them how to type. Schools have become bogged down with all of the things they’re expected to teach, and kids end up not learning how to write by hand or how to type.

Kids don’t necessarily know how to navigate screens that aren’t touch screens.

Can’t toggle between windows or tabs. 

Don’t understand where things are being saved so they can’t access what they’ve downloaded. 

Don’t know the difference between things on the computer and things in the cloud.

We’ve been pushing and pushing for more technology in schools! They need to be tech-savvy if they’re going to be competitive! 

Is being competitive the point of school?

What do you expect a first grader—a six-year-old—to be able to do on a piece of technology? Why do they need to do it in first grade instead of fifth grade? Or eighth grade?

What pieces of hardware and software should they be using? Who is going to pay for said hardware and software? The upgrades in a couple of years when it all is becoming obsolete? And a few years after that? And a few years after that?

Is saying “kids are really good at technology because they’ve grown up with it” just a cheap, easy excuse not to teach them? Why are schools the only places expected to teach?

My thoughts branch out from here in a few directions.

No, technology is not necessary for young students, except in the ways we’ve made it so. Standardized tests are rarely on paper any more, and making the user interface age-appropriate is not necessarily on the radar of the people designing the tests. 

I have seen kids fail tests because they didn’t understand how to navigate the technology. (The test is negated if the child receives any help whatsoever, so all teachers can do is watch.)

We need to know technology for jobs? For some jobs that’s true. For all of those jobs plus most of the other ones, we need to be able to collaborate effectively, show empathy, have grit, and know when to grit and when to quit, but there’s no emphasis on any of those. In some aspects, the way we do school—and our mindset around how we should do school—is the opposite of what we need.

We need flexibility and desire to learn and humility in our skill set.

The people who created and did tech support and made software for computers I used in late elementary school didn’t have computers growing up. People my age and many years younger didn’t have touch screens growing up. And yet we can still use them.

I think we’re not only pushing things too early, we’re pushing the wrong things.

Young kids need to play. With each other. That’s how they learn. Not at desks. Not on computers. In the sandbox or the jungle gym or with blocks or trains or dolls or paint.

Older young kids need to learn to read and write and understand numbers and continue to learn how to interact with other people in structured and unstructured settings.

Sure, people need to learn how to use computers. But not when they’re little. And not at the expense of more important soft skills.

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