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Technology And Cognitive Development

The use of technology, read computer programming and elearning is witnessing a profound impact on the education of children. Through this article, we briefly attempt to look at Cognitive Development and attempt to understand the beginning of its relationship with Technology.

The word Cognitive is essentially relating to the “conscious intellectual activity” of a person. Thus “Cognitive Development” is all about the nature and development of human intelligence. The predominant theory of Cognitive Development is by Jean Piaget. This theory deals with how a child constructs a mental model of the world. According to Jean Piaget, children progress through four stages of cognitive development, each representing a marked shift in understanding. As per Piaget the four stages were:

  • The sensorimotor stage, birth to age 2: In this stage, infants and toddlers acquire knowledge through sensory experiences and manipulating objects.
  • The preoperational stage, age 2 to about age 7: At this stage, kids learn through pretend play but still struggle with logic and taking the point of view of other people
  • The concrete operational stage, from age 7 to 11: Kids now begin to think more logically, but tend to struggle with abstract and hypothetical concepts.
  • The formal operational stage, which begins in adolescence: This stage involves an increase in logic, the ability to use deductive reasoning, and an understanding of abstract ideas.

The works of Jean Piaget greatly influenced Dr. Seymour Papert, the cofounder of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, and the creator of “Logo” the first computer programming language developed expressly for children. This was done in the late 1960’s when personal computers did not even exist. At a symposium at MIT called "Teaching Children Thinking" in 1970, Dr Papert laid his vision for the use of computer programming to enable children to "teach computers". It was here that the radical paradigm was floated, "Is the Machine driving the child or vice versa"

Dr Seymour Papert through his seminal work of 1980 “Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas” laid before everyone, his vision of the use of technology and the use of teaching programming to children to impact cognitive development. The following words from “Mindtsorms” best illustrate this philosophy:

“Even the simplest Turtle work can open new opportunities for sharpening one’s thinking about thinking. Programming the Turtle starts by making one reflect on how one does oneself what one would like the Turtle to do. Thus teaching the Turtle to act or to “think” can lead one to reflect on one’s own actions and thinking. And as children move on, they program the computer to make more complex decisions and find themselves engaged in reflecting on more complex aspects of their own thinking”.

While we have moved on in the use of technology from one form where the child is the master (Teaching the child Computer programming) to another form where the computer is the master (elearning and its use to teach children), the impact of technology is no doubt very huge. This is best stated in the words of Ray Kurzweil :

Our intuition about the future is linear. But the reality of information technology is exponential, and that makes a profound difference. If I take 30 steps linearly, I get to 30. If I take 30 steps exponentially, I get to a billion. “

Sunil Mohal
Sunil Mohal has been engaged in helping students and professionals maximise their skills for the last 30 years. He has been exposed to the Hospitality Industry and the Defence Services as an officer cadet at NDA which have imbibed the virtues of customer service with discipline. Having setup Computer Programs in many of the leading schools in India, he brings enormous practical experience of Academia. Having also engaged with some of the largest IT companies in the world he understands the enormous challenges of Change and its impact on people.