Appropriate technology?

Yesterday my post about post-partum depression was featured on the BlogHer website! Wow!

This morning on my morning drive to work,  I heard a report on the BBC about a non profit called Global Advocacy, One Laptop Per Child.

The group gave tablet computers to poor children in Ethiopia with apparently stellar results.  In this particular region of Ethiopia, the children were particularly impoverished, did not read, and were not going to school. “We went in, gave them the tablets and walked away,” said Matt Keller, the Vice President of the Global Advocacy.

These kids are learning faster than they would be learning in school. When you give a child that tablet and all the other children in the community have the tablets, the children learn form each other, they teach each other, the dynamic is so intense that I have to say yes, it’s better than a classroom.

The story jumped out at me because as a parent, I am repeatedly warned against exposing my child to too much “screen time.” I just got an email from my child’s preschool teacher that cautioned television watching before bedtime, and in my social circles, dropping off a bunch of iPads to kids and then just letting them sit there and play with them all day would be seen as tantamount to child abuse.

What happens when toddlers zone out with an iPad? asks Ben Worthen in the Wall Street Journal, and concludes that the things aren’t good for his child because he goes into a sort of trance and it becomes a daily battle to get the boy to put the  thing down and go the fuck to sleep to bed.

Apparently they can be a great tool for kids with autism, cerebral palsy and various other disabilities. But table comptuers can also make it more difficult to sleep, and there is persistent concern about their effect on children’s brain development, attention span and learning ability.

In public health, we talk about providing appropriate technologies for the situation. Is dropping off a bunch of tablet computers to poor children an appropriate technology? Does it make sense in the context that they live?

Do we have different standards for the health of our own children and the health of other people’s children, poor children? Would we want this for our own children.

Paul Farmer talks about creating a preferential option for the poor, arguing that it is the role of the non-profit and charity world to charge themselves with offering the poor people of the world the same –if not better — medical care as wealthy patients in developed countries.

Idealistic? Yes. But it’s something that I always think about when new programs are rolled out or when a researchers is talking about their groundbreaking work in a poor country.

What do you think?

Have you heard about  One Laptop per Child ?Do you worry about whether too much “screen time” affects the health of your own child(ren)? Are there other programs that you know about that employ new technologies innovative ways? Tell me, I want to know!

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