Friday, March 12, 2010

The March of Technology is Killing the March Break

I remember way back when I was a kid in school, on a day like today I’d be a bundle of raw energy, just itching for the clock to buzz it’s last alert for the week – and for the next two weeks – as today marks the start of March Break across much of Canada.

Back then, all the school boards across the province were pretty much unanimous in their timing of the annual spring break. All the school boards in the province gave us two weeks off, all starting at the same time.

For me and my brother, the March Break meant two weeks of lounging around the house, sleeping in, and fighting over who got to watch what on the big TV in the living room.

Some did a typically Canadian thing – they packed up and flew to warmer climates, to enjoy a spring break away from the Canadian winter chill.

The March Break was a well deserved vacation – two weeks to rejuvenate and refresh our minds, bodies, and souls.

Even if you didn’t go anywhere or do anything really significant, it was a pleasant time to just take a break.

These days, March Break has been reduced to a mere week. Kids in school these days have such jam-packed schedules, school boards have become stingy in their allowances of time off.

One of the downsides to our technologically advanced world which surprisingly gets little coverage is the pressure it puts on educators and kids.

When I was a kid, they only had two computer classes – basic computing and advanced computing – and both were only offered as electives in high school. The computer classes were taught on what are now ancient relics, the original IBM PC running at a turtle-blasting speed of 4.77 Mhz. These days, if you find one of these monsters of a machine it would be best used as a paperweight than anything else.

Kids these days don’t get basic or advanced computing classes as electives – they learn this stuff as part of their regular curriculum. Many even learn some of the more advanced programs I use every day as part of my job: Adobe PhotoShop, Dreamweaver, and MS-Office.

When I did a presentation in school, I’d often have a handful of scribbled hand written notes, as I improvised much of what I said. These days, even the teeniest tiniest kids are creating highly graphical PowerPoint slide shows, with music, video and animated elements for their school presentations.

The computer revolution – contrary to what was thought at its onset – has not reduced the amount of paper used, it hasn’t created a society of typing mindless drones blindly following unimaginative corrupt business leaders (well that depends where you work), and it certainly hasn’t given us shorter work weeks, longer weekends, or more time off to pursue personal passions.

What the computer revolution has done is create a society which needs to be up and running from day one.

When I was a kid, the closest thing we had to a computer in the house was a typewriter – until the 1980’s when computers were just starting to make their way into the home. Back then, I released my creative juices building imaginary towns with Lego building blocks, racing toy cars down imaginary roads, drawing imaginary worlds, and filling them with imaginary characters using crayons, finger paints, paper and glue.

These days, kids blend their imaginations into technology – creating PowerPoints for school, well shot, edited and produced videos they upload to YouTube, or even just “texting” their thoughts to their friends over their Blackberry. Why a kid needs a Blackberry is still beyond me – when I was a kid, I’d be lucky if my parents gave me change for the pay phone . . .

Kids these days have learned how to blend technologies we never had before, into their daily lives.

But all of this – and more – has created a society where schools are forced to teach more than reading, writing and arithmetic.

Or more to the point, educators have had to embrace the new technologies, to teach the basics, or else the kids of today – which are literally born into the information age – wouldn’t understand what the teacher is teaching.

Sure, you can still use colored blocks to teach kids how to count, but they may lose interest, and stop listening unless those colored blocks were animated on a computer screen.

So why then, at a time when technology has put even more pressure on educators and kids alike, have many school boards cut the March Break down by a week?

Ironically it is the very same reason we need a break – the demands of technology.

It is the technology used by kids, and the need for educators to constantly stay one step ahead of kids by learning how to use these technologies, which means school years are all the more impacted to keep up with it all.

As the latest advances constantly enter our lives – three-dimensional HDTV systems are due out next week – that just adds to the wealth of technical-know how we’re expected to use.

I need a break!

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