by September 6, 2005 0 comments

A lot has been talked about the need for computer education in schools. And much money has been spent in buying computers for schools across the country. But the focus has been computer education and not computers in education. Thus, we end up teaching our youngsters how to program in Visual Basic or Java, and test them on their ability to make a particular sentence in a document bold
or italics.

In my opinion, this is a sheer waste of resources and opportunities that the 
science of computers has to offer. We tend to forget that computers are the medium, not the message. 
In the context of education, computers have a much larger role to play in enabling students to explore and understand, than in just learning computer languages and applications. Software can simulate the world around us and help students understand better. 

Let me explain my point with some  examples. My first example is Stellarium. Stellarium creates a real-time depiction of the sky above us. It also marks out the planets, stars and constellations and can zoom in to the photographs of nebulae. I have 
recently demonstrated this software to audience ranging from 18 years to 60 years and on every occasion have managed to hold my audience spellbound. If Stellarium can excite the child within these
people, don’t you think that it can excite the curiosity in children and that it can be an excellent tool to teach them about the world above us?

Celestia takes off from where Stellarium finishes. Celestia models the entire universe, and you can travel to the planets, meteors and the stars out there. Add-ons help you recreate the journeys of spacecrafts, and there are excellent tutorials that can guide you along. At least one of them is specifically meant for children.

Third on my list is Polymol. Polymol is a software that can model molecules. It can let you visualize molecules as you create them. My knowledge of Organic Chemistry is fairly limited for me to be able to pass judgment on this one. But perhaps, if I had access to Polymol in my student days, this might not have been the case!

Completing my list is Google Earth. It needs an Internet connection to work. A Reliance phone will do. Google Earth lets you explore the world using satellite
pictures and even modeling. Want to see how a volcano looks like, up close? How does the airport near your city look like? How do the Niagra falls look like from above? Or the Eiffel Tower for that matter? 
The answers to all these and similar questions can be found out using Google Earth. 

Funnily enough, all the software mentioned here are free. I understand that it may not be easy to convince all the schools to start using these and similar software as part of their curriculum, not in Computer Science, but in other subjects such as Geography, Physics, Biology and the likes. But somewhere we need to make a start.

Can you influence a school or even a school teacher to start doing so? If not, can you interest a child you know to start using these software?

We need to move from computer education to computers in education.

Krishna Kumar, Editor

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