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Will Technology Benefit Very Young Children?

Technology literacy is important to the economic and educational future of the next generation.

Scientists and educators in the U.S. and China say it's important to introduce very young children to new technologies. They advise developing skills from computer programing to designing electronic circuits. They say that with the right approach, children learn not to be frightened of abstract thinking.

Even before children learn to read and write, they can manipulate -- move and control -- images. Tablet computers with touch-sensitive screens are perfect for lining up simple commands.

Mitchel Resnick is co-developer of a code-learning program called Scratch Jr. He says that is exactly what programming is all about.

"Each block tells the character what to do. You snap the blocks together, and you've made a computer program. Each block has a diferent behavior. This block make the cat go to the right. This one makes the cat jump. By snapping them together I make a computer program that makes it move and then jump. That's what coding is all about, putting together sequences of actions."

7-year old Talia Levitt is having a good time.

"It's pretty fun because you can do, like, almost anything on it."

Parents decide how much time their children can spend using modern technology. But Sandra Calvert, director of the Children's Digital Media Center at Georgetown University, says it's all around us.

"We live in the digital age. Just as it's a worry that there may be too much screen time, there is also a concern that our children will be left behind if they don't know how to use the technologies that are going to shape the 21st century careers, jobs and how we are going to succeed as a nation.

Children between the ages of four and 15 use tools and machines at so-called "maker spaces" in Beijing. The maker space basically serves as an open-access workshop. There, children between 4 and 15 use tools and machines like 3D printers to create and build projects. The young people are part of the so-called "maker movement," a do-it-yourself community connecting people who like to make things with their hands.

Wang Shenglin, one of the movement's pioneers, says that trend appeals to the younger generation.

"The old generation is like: in the morning, we go to work. The young generation, we see them, they start trying, trying so hard to actually do what they love. I think that is the difference."

It goes against tradition in China not to follow the crowd. Still, young entrepreneurs like 24-year old Huang Weijie want to change things.

Huang Weijie notes that the Chinese do not need to be limited by the chance of possible failure. He says his generation will have wider experience of the world, so they will be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them.

I'm Marsha James.

This story came from reporter George Putic. Marsha James wrote it for VOA Learning English. Jeri Watson was the editor.


Words in This Story

literacy - n. knowledge that relates to a specified subject

abstract - adj. relating to or involving general ideas or qualities rather than specific people, objects or actions

manipulate - v. to move or control something with your hands or by using a machine

touch-sensitive - n. a monitor screen that can detect or respond to something, such as a finger or stylus, pressing on it

snap - n. a device that fastens something by closing or locking with a short, sharp sound

trend - n. a general direction of change

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