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Poll: Is the practical computer education in grades K-12 adequate?

The TechRepublic Microsoft Windows Blog polls members: Is the practical computer education provided to students in grades K-12 adequate?

At the risk of revealing my advanced age, when I was growing up, computers took up entire rooms and could be operated only by a very small portion of the population. A teenager in the 1970s had no access to any real computing gadget unless you want to count Merlin and Simon. But, wow, have things changed.

For example, my 10-year-old nephew is perfectly comfortable in front of a personal computer; he can surf the Web and install applications (games mostly), and he even has a basic understanding of viruses and malware and how to avoid them. He exhibits none of the fear I see so often from novice computer users several times his age and with college degrees under their belts. He knows as much about computers as I knew about Hot Wheels when I was 10.

But I also have met many 20+-somethings who have no knowledge of how a PC works or how their Apple iPod stores their favorite songs. They have never seen one of our Cracking Open Photo Galleries and wouldn't understand what they reveal, nor do they want to. They are perfectly happy in their blissful ignorance and look to others to repair and restore their PCs and other electronic gadgets from any security transgressions they may have made.

So I wonder: is the current generation of K through 12 students getting a proper and practical education with regard to the personal computer? Will this generation be more adept and more aware of the benefits and the pitfalls of using a PC connected to the Internet? Ten years from now, will network administrators still be fixing problems caused by careless and clueless users not using common sense when it comes to security, malware, etc?

Note: For the parameters of this poll question, let's confine the responses to developed nations. I know certain parts of the world have far more basic education concerns to worry about than computers they don't have access to anyway.

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About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

91 comments
liz7
liz7

They need to be taught HOW to use the programs -they are just let loose on the Net...

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

...served by having only Linux machines. (Learn to drive with a standard tranny, autos don't need teaching,... except for the need to put on the parking brake _before_ putting in 'Park'.) Never happen: MicroSoft would never donate that hdw if it wasn't going to run their OS.

thirdstreetman
thirdstreetman

I see the kids in the school where my wife works, the system would rather sell used ones to be sold in mexico than to get them for kids who families can't afford them. Glenn

pyrhyc
pyrhyc

We're seeing more schools issueing laptops to students, and starting computer education on a first grade level. That's great, but as they advance through the years they need a better understanding of the technical aspects of the machines their using. As a hardware tech and laptop store owner, I see many parents with the school issued machines needing an issue fixed or the school won't accept the machine back. Most of the issues are on such a simple software level that I find it hard to believe that the schools don't teach the students a basic troubleshooting course. I'm seeing that most of the students that are at the end of their "computer education" know how to work over the web pretty well, just out of trial and error, but the only real education they're getting is sufficiant to secretarial duties. No offense to the secretaries reading this. It's just that after eleven or twelve years of "computer education" and using them in several other classes, the student should be well adept to software issues and even basic hardware issues. I started my daughter early. She had her first laptop at age 5. Now at age 7, she has outgrown her first machine, and stepped up to a Panasonic Toughbook CF-73. SHe's only 7, so durability is a concern. She knows basic software and hardware troubleshooting, can refresh or reinstall her entire system, and even upgraded her hard drive on her own. I didn't know about that one until I went looking for the 320g hdd to put in a customer's machine. She still has real issues with patience when surfing the web, but hey, don't we all. Now granted she has an advantage, but graduating seniors after having many years of the school system's computer education aren't at this level, but they should be. Ryan Laptop Center LLC

DadsPad
DadsPad

As you can see this is a complicated subject as well as subjective. I voted Just Adequate, and that may be giving points in this economy. Here they are laying off School IT people. So, computer education will likely take a hit, though I expect teachers will pick up a lot of the slack as they know how important their networks set up is. That said, kids will always pick up what is in their interest. I made sure my kids (have grown boy and girl) could type and use a computer. Of course the world is more intensive with computers everywhere and in everything, now. My wife and I had our kids do homework on summer vacation. As my wife is excellent in checking for spelling and grammar, it was done correctly. To this day both can touch type on a computer. If you feel your kids need to be more literate on the pc, take time to work with them at home. My son, as a teen, loved mechanical things, he worked with some friends fixing up old cars (pre 1970), he is now in the Air Force repairing jet engines. My daughter is a Librarian. Neither have any interest in the innerworking of a computer. Kids today prefer laptops to desktops, laptops are replaced, usually, before they breakdown. My opinion: When I was young, with no money, I learned to repair my transportation. My brother and father were much better than I, so I probably did not learn more than I had to. My point is that when kids feel that money is tight, they will learn more on how to repair (anything), as long as everything is a commodity, then they will just replace. Are they really different from us?

benoddo
benoddo

Just what do you think we are teaching our children by sitting behind a computer screen in the classroom? We are teaching them to function within programmed parameters of a machine. Computers don't teach children, people (parents and teachers) teach children. There are no better creative tools for a child's development than a parent or teacher, a blank piece of paper and a box of crayons. Just think of the computer as a coloring book. A child's imagination and creativity is limited to the lines drawn by others.

DarinR
DarinR

Absolutely Adequate - depending on where you live. In Florida we are proponenets of the IT Academy - our HS Students can graduate with 6-8 industry certifications MCAS (4x) A+ (2) MCP (2). Our Elementary students are using Powerpoint, Word, Excel, Outlook, Internet - this is more than any previous generation - basic understanding of the inner workings is adequate at this age and more is available

keithwilson7
keithwilson7

As Technology Assistant for the elementary school in the district, I can attest to the issues of technology in the learning environment. It's a basic formula, really: Lack of Time + Lack of Budget + Lack of Proper Teacher Training = Lack of Technology Education. However, I can't help but wonder, if we had the time, budget, and training to do it "right," what would we do? Teach more technology? Probably. But, I think a bigger problem lies in UN-educating young people from what they have learned through the use of "shortcut" technology. How many times do we see students turn in papers with no punctuation and shortened words, ala texting language? Kids can't spell, can't write, and can't read, and we're worried about whether or not they can learn about your "Cracking Open Photo Whatever"??? As for the twenty-somethings, they are now becoming teachers, and are showing the signs of exactly what I'm talking about. I wonder how some of our teachers made it through college!! Just the other day I was working in a classroom and I heard the young teacher say, in explaining a story she was reading, "...and they couldn't carry it all by theirselves." I almost came out of my won-at-some-vendor-seminar shirt! I work in technology, but my concern is that we're "majoring on the minors" when basic education is at risk.

ibfrenchy
ibfrenchy

K-12 are not getting an education on computers, they are using computers to get an education. they are tools, not the object of the lesson.

kkernba
kkernba

I spent 10 years as the IT Director for a school system of around 3000 students. I can assure you that students will get practical computer education if it is a priority of the administration and school board. But I am afraid that too many administrators come into a district with an agenda and are not open to the view points of professional IT personnel. In my case, I have an Associate degree in Information Technology and Bachelor's degree in education. My last year in education, I dealt with a superintendent that has his mind set on throwing out the entire network infrastructure, servers, switchgear and PC's to put in all Macs. He set up a meeting for me with his Apple rep in the first 2 weeks of his reign. Don't get me wrong. Apple has its place in the IT world. But why force students into Apple applications and learning when the majority of the workforce uses PC's? Needless to say, the superintendent won. I tendered my resignation based on a firm belief that the move to Apple and throwing the baby out with the bathwater that took 10 years to develop, was the wrong decision. No amount of professional, IT discussion could move him from his agenda.

nospam.online
nospam.online

As IT for a 350 student school since 2004 I can say that there is a big fall off in this area. My first computer contact was an ALtar 680 and then the Z80 Franklin. Been in my blood since, even after lot's of medication.

rtillotson
rtillotson

I recently served three months as a full-time substitute high school teacher assigned to teach 125 students in five computer fundamentals classes. This class was mandatory for graduation. I estimate that 80% of the students didn't want to be there, did the minimum to pass, 20% had no home computer, and about five were "mentally challenged." The bottom line is only those students who had salient interest really learned anything; the rest were glad when it was over. And, oh yeah, the principal said several parents called her to say how much their children enjoyed the learning experience in my classes.

liljim
liljim

I think a useful comparison can be made of our attitudes towards computers and our grandfathers attitude towards Automobiles. Our Grandfathers only knew too well what it meant to be a "shade tree mechanic." It was shade tree or nothing. Today I expect less than 5 percent of our population could tune a car, change points, or change oil on their own cars. Computers have followed a similar path. In 1978, when I got my first computer, it came with schematics, wiring diagrams and a book on theory of operations for each circuit board in the computer! Today, most computer users don't know what a circuit board is, how surface mounted chips are an improvement over socketed chips, and really don't care. Today we buy cars to have a reliable mode of transportation. We buy computers to provide a tool for accessing, storing, and manipulating data. Do we really need to know how that is done? It is certainly interesting. I have encouraged any youth I know to study the how and why of computer operation, but I don't think the average High School student needs a class on computer hardware and software, nor a class in auto mechanics..... UNLESS THEY ARE INTERESTED ON THEIR OWN.

blockhart329
blockhart329

The future is going to see our lives more linked with computers than we could even imagine when the current school curriculum was being developed. Schools will have to offer more advanced computer skills to their students if they want them prepared for the real world they will face.

terreaultguy
terreaultguy

I guess they do the best they can with the resource they get. The pole should have a 5 choise [x] do not know!

dsousa
dsousa

As Tech Director at a public school system, I often despair at how much more the students should be taught but aren't. It is not just an issue of not enough computers or teachers who don't know enough themselves. The problem is there is just not enough time in the day! With Math, reading, writing, social Studies,science, Phys. Ed., Ect. there is very little time left to try to get a decent technology class in there. Yes, the students know how to post on Facebook but do they know what is OK to post? Yes, they know how to use word Art in MS Office but do they know how to do a mail merge (just 1 example) and yes they know how to "Google" something but do they know how evaluate the reliablility of the information they come across? Unfortunately what subject do we drop to make room for Technology?

jott0204
jott0204

I think a bigger issue is: "Do the schools have adequate computers to teach on?" My vote is 'NO'!

santeewelding
santeewelding

"...have far more basic education concerns to worry about than computers..." Hoo-hoo, boy, Mark. Do you see it? I am crestfallen -- wilted, I tell you -- that a [b]CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic[/b], followed on Twitter, no less, would so blithely sum up the state of educational humankind. Have you no one on your staff perverse enough to hold a mirror up so you see in reverse what you write? Us riff-raff will have to do, for now, I guess.

dwdino
dwdino

Adequate is not the question - necessary is. The skillset necessary to interact, program, utilize a computer takes a very limited time. One can go from first introduction to user in less than 6 months, and proficient about 6 months later. What is lacking greatly is critical thinking and computation. How about we teach them to use the computers in their heads first and then the one on the desk? How about removing the calculators until trig/calc? Each year another graduating class that knows more about less attempts to enter college with less aptitude (sp) and character. I don't care if my children are taught anything at school about computer use. If they have acquired the ability to think, analyze, and compute between their ears, a piece of hardware will present little challenge.

thirdstreetman
thirdstreetman

Just barely enough to get by with, my wife works at a school. when the distric replaces old with newer they sell them for one cent on the dollar to people who sell them to third world countries..... glenn

JoeAv
JoeAv

Students should be using computers in middle school ( 6 - 8) not the elementary level(K - 5)The elementary level learning are the formative years. During these formative years, students should be learning the how's of research and data gathering. These principles will be applied to using search engines and employing data gathering tools in the middle school years. Students will always seek out technology. The question is do they have a good understanding of the technology that they are using? The power of the technology? The capabilities of the technology? These are formative concepts. That need to be in play. Pushing students to use technology in the formative years was a model that parents insisted upon. Proving that their district was up to the task of using technology within the classroom. Districts responded with a computer in every classroom. This only created a larger distraction from learning and anxiety among the teachers having to learn how to use those computers. That model should change but the computers will remain. This earlier models has put additional costs upon the districts. These costs could have been better applied to improving learning with professional development for the teachers themselves. All is not lost. What needs to be in place in every district is "knowledge professional" of technology and curriculum. Whom can guide that district upon the proper use of technology. Technology in the classroom is not going away. Rather it is going to increase. We need a vision from the top "federal level" that understands the granular level and can put a new model in place that will better benefit our students and schools.

dsousa
dsousa

" I estimate that 80% of the students didn't want to be there, did the minimum to pass" I would say that this could apply to almost any class taught in school.

shaunad
shaunad

It seems to be dependant upon the interest-level of the kid. For the most part I see the kids nowadays teaching themselves the "easy" stuff if they have access to a computer. Loading software isn't rocket-science and most apps you accept the EULA and click next. Getting on the Internet isn't much harder if the service is provided. But kids who aren't curious or simply don't care will busy themselves with other activities. These kids are given the basics in school and can choose to use what they learn if they want to. There's always going to be one's who don't want to learn, and then there's going to be those kids who soak it up and beg for more. For those kids, the schools here give various levels of instruction dependant on age. For those in high school who are interested, they can earn industry certifications in the high school cirriculum.

Capt. Midnight
Capt. Midnight

...but you could teach drivers basic stuff like checking oil, changing a tire, putting air in tires, etc. My high school used to have an evening course just for maintenance basics. Same with computers, a few hours experience with installing a printer, vacuuming the dust bunnies out of your processor heatsink ( with the unit unplugged, naturally ) might take away some of the mystery and fear of the hardware and make people less reliant on Geek Squad at $100 a call.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Like elsewhere suggested, teaching kids not to be dangerously stupid in general would mean that they're also not dangerously stupid with IT. At least if they learn it. Over here we're taught to be generalists before we specialize, generally we do not chose a "major" before university... that being the bachelor degree programme. Before that we can choose a general direction, but we're required to cross-train to some extent (math-liners need to take some languages etc. and vice versa). It's not perfect, but it allows students to develop a wider perspective on which to build that common sense.

howard_davis
howard_davis

As a technology coordinator at a small charter school, agreed!

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

It was just a poll - I could write a book about the state of education and the lack of attention we all pay to those endeavors, but it was just a poll. I was trying to anticipate someone like you telling me that developing countries don't have computers and that my poll question was lame and all that kind of thing. I guess I get comments either way.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

I certainly agree that critical thinking is essential; aptitude and character are in short supply, BUT that doesn't mean that computers shouldn't be taught in school. Let's make a scenario in the world you suggest, where students don't touch computers until trig/calc... Don't forget that many "average" students NEVER take trig or calc in school. So your student graduates from high school, and applies for college or a job. You're making the hiring or acceptance decision. Now they start to fill out a job or college application: Computer skills: none List computer-related classes you have taken: none Describe your Proficiency with office computer applications, such as word processors, spreadsheets and email none Computer-related experience none Would you hire this kid for an office job like receptionist, bookkeeper or clerk? I doubt it. And have you been to a fast-food restaurant lately? They're all on touch-screen POS. Edit: And if they're applying for a job with a large technology-oriented company, there's a very good chance that the only way the company accepts applications is online! Now what do they do? If you really "don't care if [your] children are taught anything at school about computer use" then you're creating a handicap for them that will leave them at a disadvantage until they correct the omission themselves.

OpenH2O
OpenH2O

Let's get them through the basics first and outside. When I was in elementary school, we had a physical education "class" everyday. Now, in our school district, its one day a week.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Help them to acquire [i]the ability to think, analyze, and compute between their ears[/i]. Unless of course we prefer sheeple.

nonseq
nonseq

Computers should be tools, like pencil and paper, to advance education, develop critical thinking skills, develop communication skills, etc. There are those who want and need to know far more than the basic skills- like most of this august group (certainly not me and yes I know it's may and not august) but really kids pick up the fundamentals that turn computers into effective tools very very easily. Everyone does NOT need to know how pencils and paper are made in order to use them.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Unfortunately, your voice is one in the wilderness. You interject into a discussion about iterations of buggy whips by buggy-whip aficionados.

nedzanfjnut
nedzanfjnut

I agree with what you say about general education first but since ICT plays such a big part in learning and life in general, a little more time to cover the skills needed to be effective users might be prudent. Most kids can perform a google search but have no idea how to refine a search and liberally give out their personal details on Facebook and other social networks. Teachers here are expected to be proficient users but the government has only just woken up to the fact that presenting them with a laptop is only the beginning, especially for older staff who didn't grow up with anything more than Log tables or slide-rules.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

that we all have...? Wait, I'll run it through my decoder. It's tricky... replace crestfallen > dejected, wilted > withered, riff-raff > scum... ok, now it parses it. Dang... chinese to arabic regurgitates one of the "hoo"s and "scum"... well, just gotta go through with it as is... aaand... presto: [i]"Hoo hoo boy, mark. You can see it? Depressed, say, not Twitter fusarium, myself and to a lesser extent China people cbs Interactive technology that summarizes the status of ignisvulpis human so happy. What I have enough people on staff? so you can see the mirrors distorted opposites We're scum, I think now"[/i] -I think that his point is very clear now. NOTES ON TRANSLATION: I used the methodology described here: http://techrepublic.com.com/5208-6230-0.html?forumID=102&threadID=331006&messageID=3296636&tag=content;leftCol ...fusarium... ah, fusarium wilt disease... agent green causes it. A hint perhaps? ... hm, ignisvulpis... is that firefox? Latin, no less, out of nowhere, when going from italian (no ignisvulpis there) to english... ghost in the shell, anyone?

Dogcatcher
Dogcatcher

I have no problem with your position -- except that it needs to be time-shifted up a few years. Twelfth-graders may or may not be headed into the job market, but for eighth-graders that challenge is still years away. Oh, and that touch-screen POS, remember it is designed for those kids who thought learning to read was not important.

dwdino
dwdino

Primary to your posting is the isolation of exposure to the classroom. Is it possible that throughout the maturation of a given individual that exposure to and use of a computer might occur in other facets of life? Is it even possible for one to enter middle-school completely bereft of computer acclimation? My proposition was not the removal of exposure, but rather the increased emphasis on the internal tools so lacking today. If we focus on developing the internal capabilities of tomorrows leaders, than the assimilation to computer usage will prove rudimentary. Truly, my 5 year old can fire up the PC, login, open IE, go to Nick or Disney, login, and utilize online education or gaming. I have taught him little if anything. He experimented and learned. What I desire is not his improved efficiency or expanded technical skillset, but rather his growth of character and freedom to not be bound by a tool.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

they prefer to be sheeple. Much easier to let somebody else think for you; all you have to do then is react appropriately. Dittos, anybody? :-&

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Cy63r5c0ut5 - B3 pr3p4r3d! Just an idea... brainfart more precisely, sorry.

dwdino
dwdino

But thank you for your concern. ;)

santeewelding
santeewelding

Don't hurt yourself patting your eloquent back over clumsy alliteration.

dwdino
dwdino

I apologize. I will rephrase: "It is more important to be understood than to sound profound."

NexS
NexS

Are doing a good job at being equally decipherable.

NexS
NexS

For you are never the only one.

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

...That you described the state of US education. :)

dwdino
dwdino

For a great communicator is one which is understood, not eloquent.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

But for that purpose, I'd much prefer a centrifuge...

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Rupert and Teds Excellent Adventure :p Well... spin endurance training is great if you want to be an astronaut, right?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Or, at least, Americans in general. If you have access, check out Cable Noise Network or Faux News. An hour on each should clarify matters quite nicely...