A post by new contributor Antonio Battro, OLPC’s Chief Education Officer
Recently, there has been much debate about whether computers, video games and electronic gadgets are helpful or harmful to the cognitive development of children. Some naysayers point to a study that says that multi-tasking degrades cognitive performance. The proponents assert that new digital technologies provide new opportunities for creativity and collaboration. This debate is also being played out in ministries of education, universities and classrooms all around the world. The outcome will have a major impact on the education and development of our children.
New disciplines coming from the neurocognitive sciences are changing our theory and practice of education and shaping the new field of neuroeducation. At the same time, new communication and information technologies are changing the way we teach and learn. Millions of children and teachers of the world are sharing and shaping a new neurocognitive digital environment. This formidable transformation has opened a debate that often mixes facts with myths. One of the most disruptive “neuromyths” is that early introduction of computing can harm the brain development of a young child and cause “attention damage.” Some even argue that computing in schools should be introduced only to older children. These are myths that we must replace with facts.
One of the amazing facts is that first and second languages are processed in the same cortical regions of the brain when the second language is learned early in life. Otherwise, the second language is shifted to different circuits of the cortex. In a sense, when humans use a computer and share the same digital environment they are using a second language, or “digitalese.” Postponing the new linguistic skills needed in a digital world contradicts scientific findings in neurolinguistics.
Fear of “attention damage” caused by multi-tasking in a digital environment has no scientific base. One of the most developed areas of the neurocognitive sciences concerns the independent neural networks involved in the attention processes: orienting, alerting and executive control. The level of interaction of the different areas is key to a child’s ability to regulate his or her own behavior in controlling attention. This ability can be developed at early ages in order to control a distorted use of multi-tasking.
OLPC works with children in 40 countries who receive their own laptops in primary school and take them home. Our experience suggests enormous benefits of sharing these digital environments even before reading and writing skills are fully developed. There is plenty of evidence of healthy cognitive growth of young children of the most diverse cultures when they construct their own knowledge by sharing, learning and teaching digital skills, and by communicating with each other their findings, emotions and activities. We should take this opportunity for inclusion and equality for all children, as early in life as possible.
Antonio M. Battro, MD, PhD.
Chief Education Officer, OLPC