This evening, NPR featured a story about the "delicate dance" schools in the United States have to do to incorporate digital technology appropriately into their programs. With many students' constant access to smartphones, tablets, e-readers and computers, there is growing concern that too much individual screen time is negatively impacting young peoples' ability to read social cues and understand others' emotions. The question for schools becomes how to balance screen time with social time, online activity with active outdoor play.
In Meru, Kenya, where Technology Partnership works with 35 schools, there is no danger of computers, tablets or e-readers replacing interpersonal collaboration or social interaction. Instead, computers in Meru schools provide a means to group learning, along with a necessary window onto the world and essential skills for 21st century success. Like their American peers, students working on computers in Meru learn how to write reports with word-processing programs, create spreadsheets and presentations, conduct internet research, create and post videos and more ... but they do all of this in pairs or groups, and when school is out, so are the screens.
The students at our schools in Meru each share a computer with about 70 other people. But while the scarcity of computers necessitates collaboration, the students also have a way of working together that makes the collaboration worthwhile for all. They help each other. They share ideas, insights and excitement. When I visited Meru in 2009, I saw groups of students huddled around Technology Partnership-provided computers laughing, encouraging each other, telling the person in charge of the keyboard what to do, and taking turns typing while others provided aid or instruction (see photo above).
These kids don't go home and watch hours of TV or play video games in dark dens of solitude. They don't text all day long or stay glued to their iPads during meals. Instead, they go outside and play soccer. They cook meals for their siblings or do homework by lamplight.
The goal of Technology Partnership is not to make computers and other digital devices so ubiquitous in Kenyan schools that educators have to fret over how much screen time is too much. It's simply to bridge the massive digital divide between American and Kenyan students and teachers so that our Kenyan partners have enough technology to achieve their own goals for improving critical thinking skills, educating young people about the world and their opportunities in it, accessing digital learning resources, generating entrepreneurship and e-commerce, and creating 21st century leaders.
Our U.S. Director, Barbara Bates, has witnessed many success stories related to these goals during her teacher-training visits to Meru. She related one wonderful story following her trip in July this year: