working with children and the internet for the past 15 years, I have learnt
that it can be as harmful as we want it to be. If a child is alone with the
internet, and no one else is around, the web can be a deadly, subversive,
filthy and perverse place. The internet is our collective consciousness and
human consciousness is not always pretty.
When children access the internet on large, publicly visible screens in safe and public surroundings, the net can be their most beneficial friend. Groups of children can learn almost anything by themselves, using the internet. I have evidence of this from all over the world.
There is a perception that the internet is “full of rubbish” and that children will learn incorrect things from it. I have seen no evidence of this. When children work in groups around a computer and research a subject or topic, they invariably find the right answers. This is because they interact with each other and quickly correct erroneous notions.
The internet itself is self-correcting and there is, actually, very little “rubbish” on it that is not marked as rubbish by millions of users. Of course there are issues that have no clear answers at all – such as in religion or politics. Children should be sensitised to avoid these subjects. They will benefit by doing so.
Children who access the internet from such safe, self-organised learning environments gain immensely over ones who don’t. They learn to read sooner and better, they gain in self-confidence and they retain what they have researched for much longer than that gained through traditional rote learning.
The internet enables children to talk to people anywhere in the world. If such interaction is in safe, public spaces with large screens and clear audio, the effects can be dramatic. Retired teachers, grandmothers, storytellers, clowns and magicians become available to children everywhere. Since 2009, a “granny cloud” that I helped build has been interacting with children in remote areas with great mutual advantage.
There is a myth that computers make children more isolated and antisocial. Computers don’t do anything of the sort. We, the adults, do, by giving children access to the internet alone in their rooms with tiny devices. We ask for trouble and we get it. So, put your computer in the living room, get a big, high-definition monitor that everyone can look at, tell children they can do what they like on it.
Don’t put up firewalls; a child confronted with a firewall will desperately want to know what is behind it. Don’t buy little tablet phones for children; buy big tablets with a Bluetooth phone. Goodbye privacy – goodbye danger.
But, then, what about all the strange and horrible things we adults do on the internet? The internet is not a monster we have created. It is us. Our collective consciousness and, unfortunately, our collective subconscious. We like our privacy. We don’t like others to look at our screens when we do our emailing. We don’t “do” Facebook in public. It is our secretiveness that makes the internet a dangerous place.