Advances in the new age of learning

Guyana Chronicle
September 11, 2000

FOR thousands of children, today marks the first day of the new school year and they will enter school buildings which are new, recently refurbished or otherwise in excellent condition.

Several of the financially better-off institutions will be equipped with computers which are connected to the Internet, opening myriad corridors of information and knowledge to questing minds. Hopefully, most schools will have an adequate number of trained teachers to introduce those concepts of knowledge to the young children and to help them in developing their critical faculties in pursuit of further plateaus of knowledge and understanding.

Whether they be at preparatory, primary or secondary level, children embark on a new academic year full of hope tinged with excitement. Somewhere in their minds must reside the hope that many of the new subjects and some of the unfamiliar concepts they see in their textbooks would be explained to them and that they would come to know and to be as facile with the new subjects as they are with other topics.

The great adventure of learning in which strange and unfamiliar symbols and words open infinite doors to greater vistas of knowledge and understanding exerts a tremendous thrall on the youthful mind. The whole process of a mind utilising the available tools of learning in pursuit of answers and explanations not only of the physical world but also of the mysteries of human existence must be one of the wonders of life.

Unlike their parents and grandparents who had to rely on books to find answers to their questions, today's students have at hand almost the entire sweep of human knowledge through the availability of the Internet. It is seemingly inexhaustible and filled with information on almost every subject that makes up our civilisation. With two clicks of a mouse, an Internet user could avail himself of the `whys' and `wherefores' of every conceivable subject; tedious school assignments could be expedited by easy down-loading of segments of information with very little creative input on the part of the student.

Whether this is better than a student having to visit a library and check several tomes for specific portions of information would only be measured with the process of time. And in a fast-paced world where speed is of the essence, which teacher or lecturer would devote the time and the effort to ascertain whether the student has really ingested new areas of knowledge as against the expedient of supplying the correct answer?

While our youths rejoice in the new technologies that help to make school so much easier than in the past, we would urge parents and teachers not to ever downplay the importance of reading. Children should be taught that reading must not be confined to those textbooks which they must study for their examinations. They must be encouraged to understand at an early age that books are not only for examination preparation, but that they also hold within their covers priceless cautionary tales and parables of the human condition.

Books would make the best companions of the mind that is insensitive to imaginative thinking through over-exposure to vacuous television programmes and jaded hours of surfing the Internet. Books portray vignettes of human interaction that tease, elevate, jolt and engage the mind. They compel the reader to mentally explore choices and the consequences of those choices, and at the end of the exercise edge the mind a little closer to becoming more tolerant, more compassionate, more human.

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