In a world dominated by all things digital, Lianne Kolirin looks into technology in and out of the classroom
As in most spheres of life, technology has revolutionised the way in which children are being taught at school. Forget blackboards and ‘vintage’ flip-top desks. Today’s classroom is a hive of hi-tech activity, designed to foster education and innovation in the 21st century.
With one in three British children now owning their own tablet computer, families are clearly embracing the use of gadgetry. Yet according to research by John Lewis, four in 10 parents are unaware of how technology is used within the school environment.
The average class will have a projector connected to a computer so teachers can use PowerPoint, says Bruno Reddy, a maths educationalist who’s an expert on technology in schools and founder of the popular multiplication website, Times Tables Rock Stars (ttrockstars.com).
“People in business will be familiar with using slides in a presentation. It’s no different to that,” says Bruno, who was previously head of maths at London’s King Solomon Academy. “Technology is used across all subjects, just like pen and paper. Classrooms will probably have an interactive whiteboard and a special pen to use. Teachers use in-built software to write on it. They might connect to the internet and use extracts of music, images or videos.”
Some schools have dedicated ICT rooms, while others have banks of classroom computers. Laptops and tablet computers are becoming increasingly popular. Father-of-two Bruno says: “Tablets have decent apps which really foster creativity. They are very intuitive and there’s a lot of imaginative play available.”
Apps and websites like those designed by Bruno seek to improve numeracy, literacy and other skills by encouraging interactivity. Daily, nearly 70,000 pupils across 700 schools practise their maths skills through his website.
While many parents may not be aware of technology usage at school, most (69%) believe their child’s academic progress has benefited from it, according to the John Lewis survey. Nevertheless, schools should take a measured approach to technology, says Bruno. “We shouldn’t just use technology for technology’s sake, because it’s shiny and new and seen as a bit of fun. We should use it to add value to learning.Pupils are generally enthusiastic about using technology, but I would like to get to the point where it becomes habitual.”
Perhaps that is already the case at home. Recent research by communications watchdog Ofcom (ofcom.org.uk) found the number of children using tablet computers at home has doubled in the last year. What’s more, a startling 11% of three and four-year-olds now have their own tablet.
This raises concerns over excessive screen-time, which can lead to anything from anti-social behaviour and disturbed sleep to poor eyesight and obesity. Therefore technology comes with responsibility. This cannot be stressed enough by Dr Aric Sigman, a specialist in child health education who has written extensively on this issue.
“Teachers and parents must instil a rule that school screens should be used for education, and that entertainment or recreation should take place on personal screens outside of schools. There needs to be a boundary between education and recreation, children also need at least an hour away from screens before bed to avoid poor quality of sleep,” he says. “Children need to be taught not to multi-task. When they do homework they must not keep other applications or windows open, because this prevents effective learning.”
The impact of technology on education is still open to debate, says Dr Sigman. “The idea that e-learning is equal or superior to traditional learning is simply not proven. Computers are tools which should be used sensibly from the right age. The technology is neutral. How it is used and how much it is used are the key questions. In the classroom, children still need to look other pupils and teachers in the eye in order to learn through human interaction. Technology mustn’t displace education or the learning process – as they say, the tail should not be wagging the dog.”
Online safety is also vital for youngsters. Most parents (77%) feel they know enough to help their child manage online risks, yet nearly half of parents (43%) believe their child knows more about the internet than they do. Three quarters of teachers are concerned that issues such as sexting, grooming and cyber bullying are on the rise, according to e-safety company Point2Protect. A similar proportion, have encountered cyber bullying or trolling amongst pupils.
Internet providers offer advice on protecting children online, while Ofcom has produced a set of consumer guides to help parents to manage their children’s access to digital media. Parents can also have a huge impact by bringing themselves up to speed with technological advances, in order to support their child’s learning.
Drew Buddie, Senior Vice Chair at the National Association of Advisors for Computers in Education, says: “The use of mobile digital technologies in the classroom is certainly different from what today’s mums and dads did in school, but it’s also not as complicated as they might think.
“Children have always benefitted from their parents’ support on schoolwork,” says Drew, “so by learning about the technology involved in today’s lessons they can help their child get even more out of it.”
Living in a digitally-driven world it’s something we simply cannot ignore – and the best advice, as with everything in life, is to use technology in moderation.