Have calculators, mobile phones made our students stop learning?

07Jan 2019
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Have calculators, mobile phones made our students stop learning?

ONE habitual refrain often heard is that children and youths were once learning, making more effort than they now do, and that becomes a learning and upbringing problem.

It appears that the discussion is stuck in confusion as to whether it is teachers or parents and guardians who ought to be held accountable for what is perceived as low motivation for learning.

When it comes to finding solutions, the matter gets even more confused, as the two layers of stakeholders plus religious authorities and public authorities exchange ideas whether formally or informally and whether publicly or privately.

What is at issue is that modern technology has removed the pressure of learning the mathematical tables, for example, when each adding question is done with calculator and now on mobile phone.

Hardly anyone has recollection of the last time one took a book and paper and listed things to be purchased in a shop and write them down, complete with the sums added, as all this is quickly done to perfection by placing fingers on a calculator or a mobile phone.

The maths problem having been taken care of, the rest of learning becomes something between work and play, as what is taught and the books suggested are but a drop in the ocean compared to internet material.

It is this aspect that the lamenting on the perceived or presumed laziness of modern school children as regards learning somewhat puts aside. The youths are exposed to the world in ways that were not even imaginable to their parents and guardians when they were themselves youths.

This earlier situation regarding maths and the desk calculator has since branched off into all learning spheres when access to the internet is placed on the students’ mobile phones. Learning and hobbies are thus effectively fused – as some students spend time on social media gossiping and looking for details on socialites while others dig in to learn.

What can rapidly be said about this is that it pulls the plastic character of learning in society to the limit, as learning is no longer confined to a material situation of physical compulsion to read and pass.

In some cases, even examiners may appear to have learnt to bring their benchmarks low enough so that the vast majority of candidates will pass. But this should not be allowed, lest we finally find ourselves faced with the problem of printing and issuing colourful but practically useless certificates of school completion.

Rather than be forced into adjusting exams, pass marks and certificates to the learning atmosphere, we need to pull children to old benchmarks so that they sit for quality exams and pass on merit.

We are indeed in a ‘brave new world’ and ought not to lament so much that this is the case, as talented children properly armed with “supportive” modern tools where appropriate can do wonders in the computer age.

But even merely playing with the mobile phone on various social media sites provides young people with intimate knowledge of the world which was previously hard to come by.

In a word, these gadgets have caught up with us, and there is no going back. The most we can possibly do is to ensure that they are put to judicious use – preferably under guidance for particular age groups.

We shouldn’t be overly sad about “simplification of learning” as, depending on various factors, knowing a little about plenty may prove better than knowing plenty about little.