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Friday, 7 April, 2000, 12:34 GMT 13:34 UK
Computer course for toddlers
young children peering at computer screens
The course is said to help children "relax" with computers
Children as young as 18 months are enrolling on a computer skills college course.

The course, at Ryde College in Watford, Hertfordshire, is designed specifically for babies and toddlers aged up to three-and-a-half.

They won't be sitting down writing out Shakespeare, but they will be using computers to improve their communication skills.

Mike Ryde

During weekly lessons, the children will learn how to use computer keyboards and mice while operating educational software.

They will also be taught basic word processing skills, and the older ones will even learn basic computer programming.

The college is already well-known for teaching information technology to pupils aged four and above, and has had pupils as young as six passing GCSEs in the subject.

Karen Ham-Ying holding son Callun
Karen Ham-Ying said her son Callun "loves computers"

Last year, seven-year-old Nirav Gathani became the youngest pupil to pass a higher level GCSE exam, when he received a B grade.

Eight years ago, one of the college's 11-year-old pupils, Neil Madhvani, entered the record books when he achieved a C grade in computing at A level.

It decided to start the course for toddlers to satisfy parental demand.

'It's not pushing them'

Managing Director Mike Ryde said: "We have a tradition at the college of allowing children to start at whatever age they feel capable.

"It's not pushing them, it's giving the opportunity to be able to learn.

"Increasingly over the last few years, parents have asked us if we would do something for the younger children."

The college has already piloted a programme of lessons - which cost 18 an hour - for toddlers, and will launch the course officially at the end of April.

Karen Ham-Ying, who teaches GCSE English at the college, has signed up her two-year-old son Callun for the course.

Mike Ryder
Mike Ryder: "Children should have the opportunity to learn"

She said: "He loves computers. He can't wait to get onto the computer at home, so we thought it would be a good idea for him to come along here."

The youngest pupils, helped by tutors and a parent or guardian, will use educational software to carry out activities to develop skills such hand/eye co-ordination and colour recognition.

Communication skills

The course will help them get used to a computer keyboard and mouse, before they move on to simple word processing using the alphabet, numbers and short words, and eventually basic computer programming.

Mr Ryde said: "They won't be sitting down writing out Shakespeare, but they will be using computers to improve their communication skills.

"It's not easy to use a mouse or a keyboard - even adults find it difficult. It's about giving children airtime with computers. It's exciting for them, because it's interactive."
girl using computer
Children practise the skills they learn on their own computers at home

The college says up to 15 young pupils have already enrolled on the course, which has generated a lot of interest.

Staff hope that children who take the course will progress to the college's primer course for four-year-olds, and then to GCSE level.

Mr Ryde said: "Children of a very young age are in their prime years for learning. When they are young, children pick up things like languages and accents instinctively - an ability which is lost as we get older.

"By the time children are nine or 10, their capacity to receive information is on the downward slope, although other things like reasoning and experience to come into play.

"Children should have the opportunity to learn. You shouldn't push children to do it, but if they enjoy it, why not?

"To turn the argument the other way, should you not do it, even if a child enjoys it?

"Computers are very much part of everyday life, and the only guarantee is that they will become even more part of every day life in the future.

"The sooner children become accustomed to them, accept them, and can relax with them, the better."

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