The Child and the Machine

Are computers effective learning tools for young children? Can computers help our kids learn to read, write, and think? The Child and the Machine is, astonishingly, the first book ever to address these questions. Drawing upon hundreds of international studies, as well as first-hand observations and accounts from classrooms across North America, authors Alison Armstong and Charles Casement discover some important, and at times alarming, answers. Groundbreaking in the depth and rigor of its research, credible in its conclusions, The Child and the Machine is essential reading for parents, teachers and policy makers. It will change dramatically the way we think about the place of computers in our children’s education.

The Child and the Machine

Author: Alison Armstrong and Charles Casement ISBN 1-58904-005-8

Excerpt: Computers in Education

If teachers do not receive adequate and ongoing training, money spent on computer technology will largely be wasted. There are many stories of equipment being purchased, and then being used only by one or two teachers. Very often, in fact, a school buys computers because a few teachers or an administrator became interested in using them. An informal kind of training may then take place in which the “experts” share their knowledge with both students and fellow teachers. However, when these expert users leave the school, it is not uncommon for the technology program to flounder, because they have not been able to engender the same enthusiasm or commitment among their colleagues. One elementary school in Winnipeg, singled out in the media as an exemplary computer-using school, didn’t have a single computer turned on the day I visited. The computer coordinator had moved to another job, and there was no one to continue the program. As a result, the costly equipment was basically sitting idle. Teacher training will not be effective if it is confined to a one-time introductory course. Apple Computer has discovered that it takes an average of five to six years for teachers to change their method of teaching so that they are using the computers in a way that benefits students. This might well explain why, in a national U.S. survey, the prestigious Bank Street School of Education in New York concluded that only 5 percent of those teachers using computer technology in American public schools could be counted as “exemplary” users.

The Bank Street study found that teachers who were using the technology wisely-for instance, helping their students produce a yearbook or newspaper, instead of allowing them to use computers for game-playing activities-were those who had received considerable training and who were supported by both their school and their district in their use of computer technology. They differed from other computer-using teachers in that they were much more likely to have had a liberal arts background, as opposed to a degree in education, computer studies, or social sciences. The single most important factor, however, was class size. Teachers with the best record of meaningful use of computer technology had, on average, classes of twenty students – 20 percent smaller than the overall average class size.

These findings further underscore educational research by Becker and others which indicates that class sizes must be kept smaller than average in order for students to derive the maximum benefit from the technology. This contravenes the widespread belief that by increasing the number of computers in the classroom, the teacher will be able to teach more students. Concurrent with this kind of thinking is the notion that once students are given computers, they will somehow become less dependent upon the classroom teacher for learning. In fact, introducing a computer into the classroom, particularly for schools that are connected to the Internet, will make the role of the teacher, and thus adequate teacher training as well, more essential than ever.

Excerpted from The Child and the Machine by Alison Armstrong and Charles Casement. Copyright © 1998 by Alison Armstrong and Charles Casement. Excerpted by permission of Key Porter Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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