Posted by: Gillian | September 23, 2008

Computers for all

It’s UK political party grandstanding season.  Gordon Brown (our Prime Minister) has decided that children from poor families should have free computer use (including access to the internet) so that they can compete in the jobs market.  Of course.  But does this not miss a point: UK children can have access to the internet through school or – when older – through publicly funded job agencies.  The people who are most in need are the adults who have dropped off the learning-and-employment ladder and the adults who are officially retired but, unless they can be online and learn to be online, are becoming ever more estranged from many facets of this Western society.

Of course, I am well aware that some people desperately need water while I complain about computers and internet access.  In defence, computers and internet acccess require easy access to water as without water people have no free time to worry about anything else.  All people within modern social structures (that is, aware of modern political systems rather than in remote self-sufficient tribes) now need access to the internet.  Adults born long before the introduction of the laptop computer need access to the internet to gain access to information, socialise, pay bills, book holidays, learn new things and create new businesses.  In the UK, it is less the children that need help, but more the adults who are still braving the open doors of a well-equipped primary school for an after-school club showing them how to use a mouse and explore that curious place known as ‘online’.  Without ‘online’ so much modern educational resource is closed: much public ‘television’, much free university material, much free OpenSource material, much free supplementary newspaper material.   Without ‘online’, adults cannot learn how to contribute in and to an online world.

It is not a matter of being nice to Great-Aunt Meg.  While the emphasis is on children, adults have an excuse to hold back and yet it is adults who have the broader skills and knowledge that need to be passed on.  It is adults who have the personal skills that are essential to run businesses and administrations no matter what the technology.

Reading this, you will be online.  Let’s get the message out there: adult online learning should be a mainstream priority wherever we are in the world.


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  3. I see your point: it is adults that need computers for online access and this can filter down to children as a secondary imperative.

    In our Western Civilisation and with increased leisure time on our hands I am sure you are right and a few ex-Lehman Brothers personnel may agree too.

  4. Hi Melissa. The filter-down effect is great for all sort of reasons. Grannies can show very small children and teenagers can ‘borrow’ grandparents’ machines when all other access routes to the internet have shut up shop/school. The filter-up effect tends to be less good as the adult finds endless reasons not to engage (can’t interfere, ‘their space’, too old…) Here in the UK we have a declining proportion of children in relation to the overall population. Do we really want a society where people are literally excommunicated because they think the internet is just for the young? There are still plenty of highly intelligent adults out there who have never used a computer. Scary!

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