Digital devices make little difference for primary kids, says study

NZ Herald | 21 May 2016

The boom in iPads and other technologies used in the classroom makes little difference to children’s achievement in their primary years, a new study says.

The study compared two classes of 8-year-old children – one with digital devices and the other tech-free.

It found tests of literacy comprehension at the beginning and end of term showed similar improvements.

“In the Year 4 class the results were very similar, so it didn’t matter whether there was technology or not, they made similar gains,” said study author Dr Jenny Poskitt.

However, the study – to be published in the next edition of the Australian Journal of Middle Schooling – found significant gains from technology as children got older.

“In the Year 5-6, the technology class made three and four times the gains, so they were significantly better than the non-technology,” said Dr Poskitt, senior lecturer in education at Massey University.

The study comes against a backdrop of increasing questions internationally about the role of technology in the classroom.

John Vallance, headmaster of Sydney Grammar School, recently described the billions spent on computers in Australian schools as a “scandalous waste of money”.

Schools were spending a “disproportionate amount of their money on technology that doesn’t really bring any measurable, or non-measurable, benefits”, he said.

In New Zealand, ultra-fast broadband has been rolled out to all schools at a cost of $1.25 billion. After that, individual schools decide how they deliver the curriculum and whether and how they use technology.

The most recent figures show most are embracing it and about 90 per cent of schools use online resources, according to a 2014 report.

And in March this year, internet use in schools soared past 1 petabyte for the first time – the equivalent of 10 billion photos on Facebook or 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text.

Dr Poskitt said her study suggested well-integrated technology could make a difference for children.

“But it does not substitute for effective teaching … Essentially it’s about teachers who understand how technology might be used, who link it into what they’re learning. The ones that were really effective were very targeted in what they used and why they used it.”

Guidelines on screen time

Children under 5 should have one hour of screen time a day at most, and those under 2 should have none at all, say official guidelines.

The Ministry of Health published a review last month of guidance on physical activity for children under 5 that will inform new national guidelines.

It came after a 2013/14 health survey showed more than half of children aged 2 to 4 stared at a screen for two or more hours daily.

The review, ordered by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman as part of the Government’s childhood obesity measures, found academic evidence associated more screen time with poor sleep for toddlers and preschoolers.

Children over 5 are recommended to have no more than two hours’ screen time a day.

And though you can set rules around television or even hide the remote, it’s not so simple with tablets or cellphones that kids get their hands on. Try downloading the Screentime app, which allows you to set daily time limits on use.

NZ Herald

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