Are iPads for kids a sound idea or a trendy notion?
Published 26/09/2015 | 02:30
Should all five year-old kids be encouraged onto iPads? If so, should it be part of an official school curriculum or some other part of state policy?
Like thousands of kids across the country, my 13-year-old step-daughter recently got a school iPad upon entry into secondary school. She loves it. She's also acclimatised as, like many children her age, getting information from an interactive screen is a basic process she has known since she was small.
So a school iPad will now give her access to a great deal of extra material for subjects she's studying, whether it's English, science, history or geography.
But here's the thing: she can already read and write. She is not depending on the device for basic literacy or development skills.
The question raised by Finance Minister Michael Noonan is whether much younger kids should be given digital tablets as a formal part of their education or 'upskilling'. Leaving aside the question of whether a five-year-old child is at an upskilling phase, the whole area raises fundamental pedagogical questions about the relationship between technology and early childhood development.
Specifically, do iPads get in the way of basic skills, such as reading and writing? Do they impact concentration levels and attention spans?
Leaving aside issues of cost or access, are iPads for young kids a sound idea or is the whole thing just a simply a trendy notion?
The evidence so far shows mixed results. On one hand, tablets have been shown to help kids struggling with literacy problems because of the depth and range of specialist education apps available for tablet computers. Some kids simply respond better when an iPad is put in front of them than they would with a book. Where that is the case, it seems regressively doctrinaire to rule them out.
And research from US education experts - where most effort has been put into examining this issue - has shown that giving iPads to children under 10 can lead to more "integrated" reading patterns. For example, researchers at Michigan's Oakland University found proof of "more robust reading strategies and deeper comprehension" when children were given ebooks to study on iPads.
On the other hand, rival US studies suggest that tablets change the dynamic between children and teachers.
For example, a report by the early childhood research centre at the State University of New York found a "troubling" schism in interaction between young children and adults when a tablet PC was involved. The technology resulted in a "decreasing verbal and physical interaction between parent and child", wrote Corinne Eggleston, the research centre's assistant director.
So the evidence appears to suggest that the younger the child, the more guided the interaction with digital tools should be.