Basics must still precede computer skills: teachers

by Yoko Hani and Setsuko Kamiya

While the government is actively promoting education on information technology starting in elementary school, some teachers question the wisdom of getting children started on computers at such an early age.

“I often doubt if it is good for first-graders to learn drawing pictures on a computer screen,” remarked an art teacher at a junior high school in Tokyo.

“I believe it would be better for small children to draw pictures with crayons first. I don’t think it would be too late for them to start using computers from high school.”

The 38-year-old teacher, who has 15 years of classroom experience, declined to be named.

She admitted, however, that learning computer graphics and the art of making collages will help foster creativity among children.

“But before being trained to use a computer, small children should have more opportunities to use their five senses and make things with their own hands.

“To my surprise, some students in my junior high school cannot draw a straight line or cut a paper in two with a pair of scissors,” she added.

Japanese language specialists harbor similar concerns.

Susumu Ohno, a professor emeritus at Gakushuin University and an expert on the language, said schools should be careful not to neglect education of basic skills such as reading and writing by overly focusing on providing students with computer skills.

If children don’t master their mother tongue, their IT literacy may remain poor, he said.

Ohno is worried about the future course of elementary school education, in which teaching of fundamental subjects is to be reduced while computer education is to be promoted.

The education ministry, in its first policy change in 10 years, will introduce a new mandatory curriculum in the next academic year that cuts by about 30 percent the volume of knowledge that elementary school and junior high school students are required to acquire.

The ministry said the diluted curriculum is intended to make sure that most students acquire basic “indispensable” knowledge during compulsory education.

The current curriculum places too much emphasis on memorization of information in volume, resulting in students crammed with facts but unable to follow what is going on in the classroom.

Ohno said, however, that Japanese language education should be increased at elementary schools, not only to allow children to gain sufficient knowledge of their mother tongue but also to produce citizens who can freely utilize computers.

“I don’t think cutting the volume of required Japanese-language education will produce Japanese who can freely utilize computers,” he said.

Shugen Yoshino, deputy chief priest at Tokyo’s Entenji Temple, which has held annual children’s haiku contests for nearly 40 years, shares this view.

“Small children should become able to read and write first so they can express their feelings in their own words,” said Yoshino, who lamented the deterioration he has seen in recent years in children’s vocabulary and ability to express themselves in haiku. “Teachers should teach pupils how to use computers.

“But they should remember that the computer is merely a supportive tool for teaching.”