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Published in Print: October 21, 1998, as Pa. Gov. Proposes Internet Access for Day-Care Centers

Pa. Gov. Proposes Internet Access for Day-Care Centers

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Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania envisions a future where even the preschoolers are technologically savvy.

The governor has proposed a $1.6 million program that would provide free Internet access to more than 4,000 licensed day-care centers in the state and develop interactive technology for preschoolers.

Gov. Ridge, who is running for re-election, announced "Cyberstart" last month at the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children's annual conference in Harrisburg.

The program would begin to prepare children for a high-tech 21st century, said Gretchen Toner, a spokeswoman for the Republican governor. "Being exposed to technology this early gives kids a head start," she said.

Mr. Ridge also hopes that the program could become a catalyst that links university and private research resources to create innovative Internet-based technology for early-childhood development.

The governor's proposal calls for $1 million to be set aside for the development of a Creative Learning Institute, where early-childhood computer programs would be created. The remaining $600,000 would be used to cover annual Internet-access charges.

Preschoolers Unplugged

But some critics say the program should never see the light of day because it is geared toward very young children.

Educational psychologist Jane M. Healy, the author of Failure To Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds--For Better and Worse, argues that a child who can't read does not need to be on the Internet. She says that money for such programs would be better spent on teacher training and salaries and better school facilities.

Ms. Healy said there are serious drawbacks associated with computer use among young children.

"It takes away from learning language, math concepts, social skills, using the imagination, and creativity," she said last week. "Not to mention the physical hazards, like vision problems or early development of carpal tunnel syndrome."

Ms. Healy said computer use among young children is most troubling because developmental issues are ignored. Her research has found that children under age 7 are better off without much exposure to computers.

Responding to Parents

But in Pennsylvania, as well as in other states, preschoolers already are using computers as part of the curriculum. This past spring, the Snyder, Union, Mifflin Child Development Center Inc. began installing computers into its 10 day-care centers, which are in three central Pennsylvania counties.

Sharon Koppel, the center's executive director, said parents had requested the use of computers in the company's day-care centers because they had them in their homes. Ms. Koppel researched computer use among young children and found a local foundation to provide grant money to buy the equipment. Each center has one or two computers, depending on enrollment. Only preschoolers who are at least 3 are allowed to use the centers' computers. Ms. Koppel said the children always work in groups with a teacher present.

"We try to find software that challenges problem-solving abilities and encourages social interactions," she said. "They serve as a complement to learning, not a replacement."

Ms. Koppel, who helped the governor's policy office develop Cyberstart, said that such programs will be successful as long as computer instruction is done by trained adults in conjunction with a good curriculum.

Vol. 18, Issue 8, Page 15

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