The long August vacation is drawing to a close and teachers, parents and children are preparing for the beginning of the new school year and, in some instances, new schools. With the exception of Christmas, the beginning of the new school year is perhaps the biggest retail bonanza in most countries. In some places, the sales start as early as the end of July and the spin becomes more insistent as August winds down. Depending on where you are of course, while the offerings may be similar, the pitch is different – but there is a reason for that.

Here at home, stores offer deals on uniforms, school bags, lunch bags, textbooks, exercise books, calculators, geometry sets, pens, pencils and the like. Back-to-school promotions and competitions allow consumers to ‘win’ various items that children might need. Bursaries come in handy and in some households, textbooks, being possibly the most expensive and difficult to acquire items, are purchased early. There is a huge advantage in this: children can familiarise themselves with the texts they will be using come September and parents hope this will give them the jump start they need to succeed.

In North American states and provinces, the huge chain stores also have sales, promotions and competitions – each trying to better the other. But, along with the very necessary accoutrements listed above, stores push more technology-based items. Parents both here and in North America might purchase computers or laptops for their children, particularly the older ones attending secondary schools. However, in North America, there is greater emphasis on laptops or notebooks that can be taken to school; tablets, iPads and cellular phones, particularly smart phones because children use these items in the classroom. They still use pens and books; they still take notes manually, but increasingly they are allowed, even expected to take digital notes and invariably, homework is typed on a computer and printed out for submission or, in certain circumstances, sent electronically to teachers.

In some areas in the US, online junior, middle and high school programmes are now available and these may be taken in conjunction with regular school, as part of home schooling or by children who have careers in music, entertainment or sports which could see them being away from the classroom at crucial times or often. It was estimated since in 2000 that 65% of children in the US between the ages of 3 and 17 years lived in a household with a computer. Internet access, which was fairly well distributed at that time, has expanded 1,000-fold since then making online schooling not only a real possibility, but almost a foregone conclusion.

In addition, a study done in the late 1990s on the effects of computers on kindergarten children found that children who were taught to use computers and who used them more proficiently demonstrated fewer problem behaviours and better social skills. Opponents of computer use by very young children have said that exposure to this technology at such an early age might replace other early childhood activities, could affect their thinking, or push them to learn some things before they are ready. However, a more recent study done in 2006 revealed that if used appropriately, computers can aid in early childhood development and can enhance children’s social interaction. Hence it is important that kindergarten-age children are taught to use computers as opposed to just being given the equipment, which should never be seen as a toy but rather as an educational tool.

In our education system, along with Maths and English, much emphasis is placed on writing. Kindergarteners are taught, sometimes painstakingly, to form their letters in a certain way. While this is still a good thing, they should also be exposed to curving their small hands around a computer mouse, the use of a computer keyboard and maybe how to slide around icons on a tablet/smart phone. In the not too distant future, unless their future career/profession somehow involves calligraphy our children will have less use for writing, but will be required to be techno-savvy. Research has shown that soaking up this knowledge early is likely to be much more beneficial to them. In times soon to come, back to school will no longer cut it; going forward will be the new concept.

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