The distracted student: Is it the digital device?

The ones who will study will study anyway

December 03, 2017 12:05 am | Updated 12:05 am IST

Caveat emptor: All this is meant as humour.

Someone decided it was worth whining about the use of laptops in classrooms , and the New York Times considered it worthy of publication. I wonder if the NYT just likes sad and whiny stories. All the climate change stories I read in the NYT always lean towards end-of-the-world alarmist chicken-little narratives.

This issue has come up on many occasions and now it also involves discussions about cellphones that kids carry to class.

Yes, kids are always distracted because of something or the other. There will always be students who focus on what the teacher is saying and there are those who drift away when they find the topic boring. Those who pay attention are not necessarily high performers and those who get lost in their own dreams are not necessarily bad students. If anything, it is known that smart kids get bored easily.

It is said that in the olden days when the Buddha had many epiphanies about human suffering or some of the oldest scriptures that evolved many millennia ago, everything was transmitted as oral history. I am sure when the stone tablets first arrived, humans complained that these tablets were a serious distraction.

We have come a long way since in terms of the various devices for writing, printing, reading, and learning. Instead of the stone tablets we now have the ubiquitous digital tablets, and I know a few who read entire books on their cellphones. I bet there are some who are managing to read Harry Potter on their smart watches. And then there are those who are proud that they are still reading paper books. May be there are a few who are still craving oral history as a means of learning and only buy audio books. If you look hard enough, you may even find someone looking for Lord of the Rings on stone tablets.

All through my student life, I never had a digital device other than a calculator that was only a step up away from an abacus. But that never prevented me from NOT learning.

So relax. Kids who want to learn will learn even if they are sitting in a fish market with their mothers and reading from a black slate. I in fact started reading a lot while sitting idle with my father and brothers selling firewood. Mostly to prevent boredom. My brothers didn’t read as much as I did. Because they could entertain themselves by watching the world go by.

There will always be those who will be distracted even if they are in the most pristine of learning environments. As a teacher, I always focus on the kids who are paying attention and see if there is any good student that can do better with a little extra admonition to pay attention.

I don’t really care much about those who think texting or browsing during class is their prerogative. My job is to teach and I focus very keenly on doing a good job of teaching. It is the students’ job to learn. I grade them fairly to judge how well they did their job. There are students who write back years later to say how much they enjoyed the course.

I never remember if those who write back had a laptop or not.

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