by Maxim MANUILSKY, Cand. Sc. (Phil.)
Theoretical and practical solutions of the problem of preparing our children for adaptation to the modem high-tech environment acquire really vital and imperative importance in our "computerized" day and age. Among the latest publications on this subject has been a book by an expert in the field. Dr. O. Fomicheva, called "Bringing Up a Successful Child in Computer Age" (HELIOS ARV Publishing House, Moscow, 2000). The author sums up the results of her theoretical and practical work with children from 4 to 19 years of age over a period often years. Her findings and conclusions match well these of other experts specializing in cognitive psychology and cognitive linguistics. Such comprehensive studies make it possible to provide a range of constructive recommendations for both parents and specialists in pre-school and school upbringing of children.
But why, having determined the basic characteristics of the contemporary "information" society, the scientists and computer technology experts turn to what they call the "child versus computer" problem? This has been necessary because in our day and age the computer has gained the status of a family member and a close friend of children and teenagers. This has even been reflected in the new term - screenager. And the absence of a fitting equivalent in Russian, however, is no sign of a lesser social role of computers in this country.
On the other hand, there is no denying the fact that the active involvement of pre-school and school age children with computers robs them of a fair share of their leisure time needed for the development of their creativity and knowledge of the surrounding world. Normally, a child must have the time and opportunity to pick up and smell the flowers, dip fingers into a spring, break ice on a pool in winter, rustle some yellow leaves in the autumn and gaze at the star-lit sky or the colorful miracle of a rainbow.
Man perceives the surrounding world through images, translating Ms feelings and sensations into words and phrases. A child of four or five, while being exposed to an avalanche of emotions, is still lacking a sufficient
command of the language which could help him fathom the depth of his impressions and the shades of images before his eyes. This often leads to emotional outbursts expressed in tears, disobedience and nervous excitement. The theoretical studies and a decade of experiments of Dr. O. Fomicheva point to the opportunities of giving the child a natural language, including the metaphorical language of poetry, which can help it comprehend the images and emotions generated by the surrounding world and express them in words which can be understood by the people around, which, incidentally, helps reduce the incidence of conflict situations in a family. As a result, the child enjoys mutual understanding from the people around which, in turn, serves to encourage its cognitive efforts and the comprehension of images and emotions.
At the present time, when a child endowed with a great cognitive potential and a thirst for knowledge of the surrounding world, is introduced to the computer he finds himself in a truly precarious situation. For the computer is not some abstract virtual reality and there is a danger, that the whole cocktail of its seething (including negative ones) will be spilled out not on its agemates in the kindergarten, or its school teacher (which is bad, but not so dangerous after all) but will develop into some hacker tricks, such as inventing computer viruses. And tendencies and fancies of this kind will be suggested and promoted by negative, but really exciting fits of satisfaction generated by the destruction of the fruits of other people's work-from breaking into some private PCs to sabotaging whole networks operated by different agencies in various countries.
In a word, what we are facing now is a new "information" society (including the Internet-a vast channel of information and communication among people belonging to different cultural traditions) which puts up its own requirements to all of us in general and children in particular. In this new situation one of the main conditions for their successful entry into the real world consists in developing their ability to process in an effective way all sorts of symbolic data. For example, while reading some texts a child should not only be able to trace the plot, but to identify the links between cause and effect, draw the appropriate analogies, comprehend the images and metaphorical structures used by the author and his basic conclusions.
The problem of the rapprochement of cultures, resulting from the interactions of people belonging to different cultural traditions and using the Internet, puts us once again before the need to comprehend one of the central elements of the linguistic conception formulated by a Corresponding Member of the St. Petersburg Academy, A. Potebnya (1835-1891) who stressed that understanding, or comprehension, is a creative work of the listener. He said: "Just as the flame of a candle does not split up because each of the lighted candles consumes its own gases, so also human speech, which only excites the mental activity of the recipient, who, comprehending it, generates his own thoughts and ideas."
In other words, while communications with children at home, and even more so while developing a program of pre-school and school education, one should pay special attention to the importance of developing the ability of a child for imaginative thinking and for expressing its thoughts so that its speech could generate in the listeners their own thoughts and ideas. This, in its turn, would help promote mutual understanding between individuals because children will learn to formulate their likes and dislikes while also taking into account the conceptual picture of the world of their interlocutor. Just like that beautiful fairy in the tale of a wooden boy who was learning to walk and speak. She told him: "you will become a real boy only if and when you learn to think." And one can also recall the Great Leonardo da Vinci who said that a portrait is an image of a person and his mentality - the work of his brain.
Some of the obvious questions before us today are: do kids in our "information" (or "data-handling") society, who are "exposed" to computers, really have to try and develop their own data-handling skills when a computer can do the jobs in split seconds? Do our children realize that the ability to think is the supreme gift bestowed upon Man? Or do they believe that the computer, like a chess partner, is invincible and all one really can and should do is to try and figure out its program logic and then sit back and admire its data-processing perfection?
Speaking about stars and fireworks, some clever kids said that the former bother us like some unfinished thoughts in our heads, while the latter-the man-made stars, are the product of people inspired by the heavenly bodies-the tangible embodiment of Man's dreams about the stars. This line of reasoning can possibly help us find a positive answer to the whole problem and find the right accents in dealing with the problem of a child's entry into the modem "information" or data-handling environment.
In order to take full advantage of the potential of the modem computer and meet the requirements of our computerized environment, or society, while retaining our natural ability for dealing with data in symbols and our creativity, scientists and practical workers specializing in problems of education and computer technologies actively share their experience in this field. The book by Dr. O. Fomicheva discussed here comes as a practical guide in dealing with the problems of computerized teaching aids and the new role of the teacher and college lecturer in the 21st century.