Since 1976, I’ve been living on one side of the digital divide. That was the year that by biology teacher, Graham Bean at Mt Albert let me play on his HP25C with its 49 programming steps and a moon-lander program. It was an instant addiction, and I started learning to program by adjusting that damn game.
A few years later I was at the University of Waikato doing a BSc in Earth Sciences. They had a DEC1170 with about 50 dumb terminals scattered across campus. When I wasn’t involved with the immediate needs of passing the courses and paying the bill, I was hacking my way into the system to play multiuser star trek (and having my first experience of digital communication) and learning to program in a number of languages. I had this habit of turning up and sitting in so many compsci lectures that many thought that was my major. But eventually I went into management.
Eventually I went into programming after discovering a IBM PC Lab while doing the University of Otago MBA in 1985-6 and getting addicted to a computer I could actually afford to own, and so could every business in the country. A few years later I did and so did they.
My first computer immediately got hooked to BIX so I could find out things that I couldn’t get books or magazines for. In my opinion, the internet kicked off big time because the magazines and books were so slow. Programmers really needed to be able to access current information.
Now nearly 30 years later that is still where I work, play, learn and frequently socialise. I have friends with whom I am in contact world wide. I have the general knowledge base of humanity at my fingertips and I use it all of the time.
I was extremely fortunate to have those opportunities when I was a kid. At the grand age of 55, I’ve been near to the bleeding edge of technology since I was a kid. And that is the key.
If you start kids easily accessing information to follow their interests early enough then they keep doing it. It needs to be something different to the phones, which in my experience with kids, mainly get used for socialising. You need the larger screen format to get deep into wikipedia pages, the pages written by the obsessed experts worldwide, or even the media pages.
It really doesn’t matter if kids are writing their essays based on a searches or if they digging out the secrets about how to win at their favourite game. The trick is to get them used to finding information out themselves. Once they learn that trick, then they will keep doing it.
That is where Labour’s policy “Education for the 21st century” comes in. There are several things of note in the policy. But what stands out for me is the deliberate intent to make sure that all kids wind up with a personal network capable device both at school and home, and access to the net. At present we don’t. Much of the “voluntary” donations in schools is for computer equipment that kids need to learn from, but is not paid for by the state funding of schools.
I still learn from my computers connecting to everything worldwide. I work on businesses where most of the value is in the knowledge we push into the code. We export them worldwide, as much over the net as we do by shipping hardware. My partner runs a side-business selling the documentary that she produced in 2011 to educational institutions worldwide. I have farmer friends who come home after a days work and research their new practices in the evening on their pads.
We live in a age of information. It is time to start to educate them to access it a lot earlier. That is how we develop the productive adaptable adults who I need to help pay for my retirement