In not too distant a future, service delivery in both the public and private sector will be through information and communication technologies (ICTs).
One of the key components of ICT is computers. Our children need this key resource from day one of their school lives. It is not difficult to justify investing in computers for our children. They are our future. The future dictates that all of us, not just children, should learn computers.
Those who have travelled by air may have noted that even at our airports one does not need an airline attendant to secure a ticket. There is no option for dilly-dallying on ICT but to begin enabling each one of us to access the technology as early as possible.
Besides preparing for the future, research tells us that there are many advantages for children to access technology in their formative years.
A report by Clearinghouse on early education and parenting suggests that three and four-year-old children exposed to computer activities that reinforce educational objectives have greater developmental gains than children not exposed to computers.
These gains occurred in areas such as intelligence, nonverbal skills, structural knowledge, long-term memory, manual dexterity, verbal skills, problem solving, abstraction and conceptual skills.
For kindergartners and early elementary students, the benefits of computers include improved motor and Maths skills, increased creativity and higher scores on tests.
A study by the United States Department of Commerce revealed that computer use increases options for creative growth and artistic expression.
In a project sponsored by the department, students were able to compose music, email it to professional musicians and teachers and receive electronic critiques of their work. Computers allow children of many age groups to develop artistic skills in photography, film-making, drawing and design, in addition to music.
Computer software programmes for children are many and in come different varieties. A parent’s on-line discussion revealed that some programmes allow children as young as three years to create their own designs and change patterns and colours.
Others will simulate events and places they can otherwise not experience, such as trips to the moon or under the ocean. Still other programmes simulate science and nature processes like the water cycle or the development of a butterfly or a frog.
Other programmes teach people on fire, traffic and personal safety. Perhaps such programmes will eventually help us change behaviour, especially driving on our roads.
However, some studies reveal the negative impact of children spending an inordinate amount of time on computers such as loneliness and obesity. These are isolated cases where children have access to home computers as well as television.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of computers at an early stages is the potential of expanding innovative capacity in Kenya. If one million children join Class One next year, you only need 10 per cent or 100,000 of them to be proficient in computers by the time they get to Class Eight.
If 10 per cent of the 100,000 eventually graduate from college and are experts in computers, Kenya will have created unsurpassed capacity in Africa. We need only one in a million to become a Zukerberg (Facebook) or Bill Gates (Microsoft).
The key is exposure to technology at an early age, otherwise we will end up like a person praying to win a lottery without buying a ticket.
Dr Ndemo is a former PS, Ministry of Information, and a lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s Business School.