Do Indian schools need to worry?

Just ‘Google’ it! It seems to be everyone’s answer to a question.

Whether it is for a pizzeria in the neighbourhood or a word we don’t understand, an internet search engine seems to be the only quick solution for information for a good reason — everything we want or need to know was a mere ‘click away’.

But here’s something you probably didn’t know — searching for information online is also changing the way we think. A good example would be to look at the slow but steady change in our habits over the years.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, people relied heavily on books. Textbook knowledge at schools only complemented the fact that people used libraries to research information. Reading books was a popular hobby among most youngsters, who steadily grew comfortable reading narrative and long pieces of prose.

Over the decade, our concentration levels have dropped drastically with looking up concise information we find on the internet. American writer Nicholas Carr wrote passionately about this in The Atlantic (Aug, 2008), ‘The Net seems to be chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.

Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski’. Bruce Freidman, a popular blogger writes about the Internet changing his thinking as well. ‘I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a long article on the web’, he claimed (The Atlantic, 2008).
Personally, this holds true for most of us because we have grown used to information ‘that fits within our schedules’ often opting to quick-surf through Wikipedia, read news through feeds or use search engines for instant results.

We are hungry for information that is instant and constant. Our thoughts, as a result, are fast becoming a series of abstract messages instead of resourceful information. But does this mean we are becoming stupid? John Hawks, a renowned anthropologist, made a startling claim that his research on human evolution proved that the human brain has shrunk a relative size over two million years.

Scientists and academics from world over voiced their concern. In fact, many just believe that our high exposure and dependence on technology is the reason that the human race in general is going through a huge ‘dumbing-down’ process. Is that possible? Fortunately, no.

In Bangalore, a city which has the second-highest number of internet users among children recently recorded a startling drop-out rate in schools. In a study conducted by a newspaper in the city, most respondents cited reasons right from financial problems to the lack of proper colleges. One of the few reasons they cited was that they found studying ‘difficult’.

It is a possibility that this is not because most children today are slow learners, but because their comprehensive and cognitive abilities are different from those with exposure to traditional mediums such as print. They are used to concise information due to constant web-browsing and find it difficult to focus on a large quantity of data.

If you’ve had similar problems concentrating when you are reading, you already know how worrying this can be!

However, here’s the good news. Most academics and critics are of the view that the Internet is changing “our way of thinking” and not necessarily “shrinking our brains”. Today, schools in India are slowly changing their curriculum to adapt to the changing needs of students. Universities too are coming to recognise that they will need to alter their syllabuses to suit the changing learning environment.

With more schools and colleges employing i-pads and video-interactive teaching, the trend is due to change altogether in the future. Yet, there’s no better way to keep our brains sharp than by picking up a book and reading a page after we log off the Internet at night. After all, our brains need a bit of both worlds.

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